High Court Upholds Death Sentence in Fullerton Stabbings
Justices Reject Claim That Defendant’s Girlfriend Was Coerced Into Testifying Against Him
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The testimony of a murder defendant’s girlfriend was not “tainted” by his illegally obtained confession where her testimony would inevitably have been obtained or was otherwise procured by means sufficiently attenuated from the Fourth Amendment violation committed against him, the California Supreme Court ruled yesterday.
The court unanimously upheld the 1984 jury conviction and death sentence of Richard D. Boyer for the1982 first degree stabbing murders of Francis Harbitz, 68, and Aileen Harbitz, 69, of Fullerton, the parents of an acquaintance of Boyer.
Prosecutors presented evidence that Boyer was a drug user and always short of money. He was linked to the crime when the victims’ son told police that Boyer did yard work for the victims and had borrowed money from them, and that he always carried a buck knife.
The court had previously reversed Boyer’s original conviction on the grounds that police violated his Miranda rights, and his confession should have been suppressed.
Prior to the retrial Boyer moved to suppress the anticipated testimony of his girlfriend, Cynthia Cornwell, and other evidence, as “tainted” fruit of the illegally obtained confession. He also argued that Cornwell’s testimony and her consent to search the El Monte house that the two of them shared was coerced.
Cornwell was originally charged as an accessory
Orange Superior Court Judge Donald A. McCartin denied his motions.
The Supreme Court held that Cornwell’s consent to search the home was voluntary where it where it was given after she spoke with both her attorney and defendant, and where her testimony that she was threatened with the loss of her children, and that an officer roughly handled her children to intimidate her, was contradicted by another officer’s testimony.
In rejecting Boyer’s claim that Cornwell’s testimony was coerced by the same police threats, Justice Marvin R. Baxter, writing for the court, said:
“Cornwell testified in both trials, and there was more than a nine-year lapse between the 1982 murders and Cornwell’s testimony in defendant’s 1992 retrial. This ample period for reflection, during which Cornwell conceded she realized the police could not take her children, further ameliorates any effect of her [prior] confrontation with the police . . . as a factor undermining the voluntary nature of her subsequent testimony.”
Baxter also rejected Boyer’s “tainted fruit” argument, saying:
“In sum, the record, as augmented by the retrial suppression hearing, demonstrates that the physical and testimonial evidence introduced against defendant . . . would inevitably have been obtained, or was otherwise procured by means sufficiently attenuated from the Fourth Amendment violation committed against defendant.”
The court also held that statements made by Boyer to mental health experts, after his motion to exclude his illegal confession was wrongfully denied by the trial court during the original trial, were properly admitted into evidence during the retrial to impeach defendant’s mental health expert, despite Boyer’s claim that he would not have consulted such experts had the trial court properly granted his suppression motion during the first trial. Boyer argued that the tactical decision to consult with such experts was made only because of his wrongfully obtained confession, and thus any statements made during the consultations are “tainted.”
Baxter disagreed, writing:
“It would stretch the ‘tainted fruit’ doctrine beyond breaking to hold that this witness, presented by the defense in a trial free of the illegal confession, may escape impeachment with information voluntarily compiled by the defense itself, and may thus assume a misleading aura of credibility, simply because the defense obtained the self-damaging information out of concern that the prosecution would introduce the confession in an earlier trial.”
The case is People v. Boyer, 06 S.O.S. 2240.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company