Friday, March 3, 2006
S.C. Upholds Death Sentence in Beverlywood Murder
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday narrowly upheld the death sentence imposed on a construction worker convicted of fatally stabbing an emergency-room nurse in her Beverlywood home.
In a 4-3 decision, the justices rejected the contention that there was insufficient evidence that Jose Francisco Guerra attempted to rape Kathleen Powell. Such evidence was essential to Guerra’s first degree murder conviction and to the special-circumstance finding, as Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Leslie W. Light, who has since retired, threw out allegations of premeditation, lying-in-wait, and burglary before the case went to the jury.
Guerra, who was doing renovation work on the house next to Powell’s prior to the 1990 murder, was picked up for questioning after his fingerprints were found in the victim’s blood. Under interrogation, he first denied being in the house, then when told that the prints were discovered, said he was drunk and might have gone in and found the victim already lying dead.
Fellow construction workers, however, testified that Guerra frequently visited Powell, who occasionally gave the construction workers food and spoke with them in order to practice her Spanish. Powell, they said, had complained that he came in to her house all of the time.
They also testified that Guerra had talked and used gestures suggesting he was interested in Powell sexually, and that they had tried to explain to him that she had no romantic interest in him and that he should stay away from her house.
Guerra testified that he stayed behind after work on the day of the killing because he intended to swim in the pool at the house that he and his co-workers were remodeling. He said he heard screaming next door, ran over to the house, and saw Powell lying in blood and briefly attempted to lift her.
He did not report the crime because he was scared and did not know how to call 911. He lied to the police, he said, because he was afraid they would beat him, which he said was a common occurrence in his native Guatemala.
While there was no direct evidence that he sexually assaulted her, prosecutors argued that his expressed sexual desires and his persistent entry into her house, combined with the facts that Guerra had stayed behind after his co-workers left the job site on the day of the killing and that the victim’s breasts had been poked several times and slashed before she was killed, was enough to prove an attempted rape Light ruled that there was enough evidence of a rape attempt to send the felony first-degree murder charge and the special circumstance allegation to the jury.
Justice Ming Chin, writing for the high court, agreed.
The justice cited People v. Holloway (2004) 33 Cal.4th 96, in which the court held that where the defendant entered the victim’s residence and attacked her, intent to rape could be inferred, despite a lack of physical evidence of a sexual assault, from other physical evidence. The court in that case relied on the condition of the victim’s body and evidence of the defendant’s attempted rape of the victim’s sister in holding the evidence sufficient.
Chief Justice Ronald M. George and Justices Joyce L. Kennard and Marvin Baxter joined in Chin’s opinion.
Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar, joined by Justice Carlos Moreno and Presiding Court of Appeal Justice Arthur Gilbert of this district’s Div. Six, sitting on assignment, dissented.
While Guerra was clearly guilty of murder, Werdegar wrote, the evidence of intent to rape was much weaker than in Holloway.
“In the present case, the evidence shows neither disrobement, nor indications of bondage, nor the recent or contemporaneous attempt to rape another victim....In determining the nature of Powell’s wounds is substantial evidence that defendant killed her in the commission of rape or attempted rape, the majority extends Holloway beyond what the opinion will support,” the dissenting jurist argued.
The case is People v. Guerra, 06 S.O.S. 1101.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company