S.C. Overturns Gang Member’s Death Sentence for East L.A. Killings
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A gang member’s death sentence for murdering two men as they worked on a car in an East Los Angeles driveway 10 years ago was overturned yesterday by the California Supreme Court.
The justices upheld Jose Gonzalez’s conviction on two counts of first degree murder and one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. But they unanimously agreed that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Victor Person committed reversible error in the penalty phase of the case.
Justice Ming Chin, writing for the high court, said Person should have granted a defense motion to require prosecutors to disclose what evidence they would present in rebuttal if two priests testified that it was possible for a man with Gonzalez’s record and background to change. Only one of the priests, Father Gregory Boyle, testified after the motion was denied.
Gonzalez was convicted of killing Jose Albert Rodriguez and Hector Ricardo Gonzalez Martinez as they and five other men were working in the driveway of a home where two of the men lived. The defendant was charged after several witnesses picked out of a photo array and a live lineup and one witness said Gonzalez had confessed to him.
With the exception of one eyewitness, all of those witnesses repudiated their statements when it came time to testify at preliminary hearing and at trial. An expert on gangs testified that intimidation of witnesses is a regular feature of gang life.
The defendant bore tattoos signifying membership in the Lott Stoners 13. The shooting took place in an area of East Los Angeles that is claimed by a rival gang, the Lopez Maravilla, as its “turf.”
In concluding that the death sentence had to be reversed, Chin wrote that the defendant’s rights to reciprocal discovery under Penal Code Sec. 1054.3 had been violated, and that the error was prejudicial even though the defense had not called one of the witnesses.
“[T]he defense provided very specific and focused discovery of its intended witnesses and specifically requested discovery of any rebuttal evidence,” the justice wrote. “If the prosecutor had any rebuttal he intended to present in the event defendant actually presented the proffered evidence, he was obligated to provide discovery of it.”
The high court, however, rejected the defense challenge to the conviction, and specifically to the gang expert’s testimony. The admission of the testimony was within the judge’s discretion and did not invade the province of the jury, Chin said.
The case is People v. Gonzalez, 06 S.O.S. 2945.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company