Tuesday, July 12, 2005
S.C. Upholds Second Death Sentence for Defendant Whose First Trial Lawyer Was Held Ineffective
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday affirmed the death sentence imposed for the 1984 murder of an Arizona tool salesman whose body was found inside a van in a Long Beach parking lot.
The maximum penalty was not disproportionate to Robert Paul Wilson’s culpability for the murder of Roy Swader, Justice Ming Chin wrote for a unanimous court.
“Defendant robbed and murdered Swader, who trusted defendant by employing him and allowing him to live in his home for a period of time,” Chin explained. “Defendant shot Swader twice in the head while he was asleep in order to take his money. Later, while in custody, defendant solicited the murder of a key prosecution witness who could place defendant and Swader together before the crimes.”
Nor, Chin wrote, does it make a difference whether, as Wilson claimed, an uncharged suspect in the case played a major role in the crime. “[C]ontrary to defendant’s suggestion, the alleged greater culpability of another person is irrelevant for purposes of intracase proportionality review.”
It was the second death sentence Wilson received in the case. In a 1992 ruling, the high court Wilson’s original trial lawyer, Ronald J. Slick—now a Los Angeles Superior Court commissioner—should have objected to the admission of taped telephone conversations involving the potential killing of the witness, who identified Wilson as having been with the victim in Indio just before the murder.
That contradicted Wilson’s original statement to police, in which he acknowledged that he often came with Swader to Southern California—Swader would buy tools here and then sell them at a swap meet in Tucson—but claimed the last time he did so was three weeks before Swader was killed.
Chief Justice Ronald M. George, in the 1992 opinion, said Slick should have objected because the other party to the conversations was, unknown to the defendant, working for the prosecution. Since Wilson was represented by a lawyer at the time, the state was violating his right to counsel by obtaining incriminating statements from him, George explained.
At the second trial, prosecutors introduced the first-trial testimony of Donald Loar, the informant who notified authorities that Wilson wanted to kill a witness.
Jurors found that there was enough evidence to convict him of first degree murder and to find that the killing occurred in the course of a robbery. Judge Richard Charvat, since retired, imposed the second death sentence.
Chin rejected the contention that police and prosecutors were less than diligent in trying to locate Loar for the second trial, noting that they did not begin searching for him until a year after the Supreme Court threw out the original conviction.
The justice noted that testimony in the second trial did not begin until 17 months after the high court’s decision.
The case was argued by Deputy Attorney General Chung Mar for the prosecution and Timothy Foley, a San Francisco attorney appointed to represent Wilson on appeal, for the defense.
The case is People v. Wilson, 05 S.O.S. 3436.
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company