Tuesday, May 9, 2006
S.C. Affirms Death Sentence, Rejects Judicial Bias Claim
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A judge whose daughter had been the victim of a knifepoint robbery at a photograph shop many years earlier was not required to recuse himself from the trial of a defendant accused of stabbing his victim to death in a robbery at a photograph drive-up store, the California Supreme Court unanimously held.yesterday.
Santa Clara Superior Court Judge John T. Ball’s unequivocal declaration that that he made no connection between the earlier robbery-which did not result in any injury and which he and his daughter had not talked about in over 10 years-and the case of Erik S. Chatman was a sufficient basis for denial of Chatman’s motions to disqualify Ball, the justices agreed.
“Judges, like all human beings, have widely varying experiences and backgrounds,” Justice Carol A. Corrigan wrote for the court. “Except perhaps in extreme circumstances, those not directly related to the case or the parties do not disqualify them. In this case, the judge stated unequivocally that he made no connection between the earlier robbery and the present case. We of course presume the honesty and integrity of those serving as judges.”
A jury condemned Chatman for the 1987 murder of Rosellina Lo Bue. There was uncontested evidence at trial, that Chatman stabbed LoBue 51 times at a Photo Drive Up store in San Jose, where the victim worked. According to the prosecution’s evidence, he then took some, but not all, of the money in the store.
The jury convicted Chatman of first degree murder with a torture special circumstance finding but acquitted him of robbery. Jurors subsequently returned a death penalty verdict.
In rejecting Chatman’s claim of judicial bias, Corrigan explained that the judge had, prior to trial, told the parties that around 15 years earlier his daughter was robbed at knifepoint while working at a photo shop. He said he had accompanied her to a live line-up, and to the preliminary hearing where she testified against the robber.
After Chatman moved for Ball’s removal, the judge filed an answer saying that his daughter was an adult at the time, and had not lived with him for about five years, was not injured, that they had not discussed the matter in over ten years, and that the “incident in question is dim and distant in my mind.”
He also said , “I did not make nor do I presently have the slightest connection with the event occurring to my daughter and the pending matter before me. I in no way feel bias, prejudice regarding the defendant nor for that matter any person charged with a crime as a result of my daughter’s victimization.”
The defense failed to make an objective showing that Ball was biased or even appeared to be biased, Corrigan said.
The court also held that emotional disruptions by the victim’s mother, including audible sobbing, during trial did not warrant the granting of a mistrial.
“A trial is the recreation of a human event. When the event involves life and death, the aftermath for all those affected is profound and emotions run high.” Stating that
The justice said “any reasonable juror would know that the crime had caused the victim’s family anguish” and any impact on the jury was cured by the judge’s admonition to decide the case solely on the evidence.
The high court also rejected the defense contention that insufficient evidence supported the torture-murder special circumstance. Corrigan noted that most of the victim’s wounds were not life-threatening, and that several were life-threatening but not immediately fatal.
The justice also cited evidence that as the victim lay dead or dying, Chatman, who had his 2-year-old son with him, took money and checks, along with the murder weapon and a telephone receiver bearing his fingerprints, from the store.
“Once home, he washed blood from himself and his son. Later that night, he took his family with him and bought cocaine, which he shared with his wife and mother-in-law at a rented motel room.”
“Considering the totality of these facts, the jury had more than ample support for its conclusion that defendant acted with the willful, deliberate, and premeditated intent to inflict extreme and prolonged pain for a sadistic purpose.”
The case is People v. Chatman, 06 S.O.S. 2251.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company