Tuesday, January 24, 2006
S.C. Upholds Death Sentence in Killing of Bay Area Women
Expert’s Reference to Defendant as ‘Serial Killer’ Not Unfair, Justices Rule Unanimously
By Kenneth Ofgang, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
The California Supreme Court yesterday unanimously upheld the death sentence of a Northern California man convicted of killing his wife and mother-in-law and linked to the brutal sexual assaults and murders of three other women.
The high court rejected Phillip Carl Jablonski’s claim that San Mateo Superior Court Judge John G. Schwartz deprived him of a fair trial by allowing a prosecution mental health expert to testify that he was a “serial killer,” a phrase that Jablonski’s lawyer had no legal meaning and was used only to cause prejudice.
Justice Carlos Moreno, writing for the high court, said the testimony was admissible to help jurors understand how Jablonski, whose attorneys unsuccessfully challenged his competence and later his sanity, could have engaged in psychotic, bizarre anti-social behavior, yet still understand the difference between right and wrong.
Prosecutors said Jablonski killed his wife Carol Spadoni and her mother Eva Petersen after Spadoni—who married Jablonski while he was serving time at San Quentin nine years earlier—told his parole officer she was scared of Jablonski and did not want him coming back to San Mateo County to live with her.
Among the prosecution evidence was a tape seized from Jablonski’s car in which he described the murders. Spadoni was shot, suffocated with duct tape, and stabbed; her mother was shot after being sexually assaulted. The prosecution’s penalty phase evidence tied Jablonski to the killings of a girlfriend with whom he had a child, a college classmate, and a woman who worked at a truck stop, as well as to attacks on 10 other women, including his first wife, his sister, his mother, and another girlfriend.
Case in Mitigation
The defense presented witnesses in the penalty phase to testify to the difficulty of Jablonski’s upbringing and the constant physical abuse he and other family members suffered at the hands of a gun-toting, alcoholic father .
Jurors convicted Jablonski of two counts of first degree murder, with special circumstances of multiple murder, murder in the commission or attempted commission of rape and sodomy, and prior murder.
On appeal, the defense attacked the testimony of Dr. George Wilkinson, a court-appointed psychiatrist who testified that he interviewed the defendant on five occasions and reviewed extensive background material.
Wilkinson testified that Jablonski suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder, “transient” psychotic episodes triggered by “overpowering aggressive or sexual feelings” that “cannot be expressed,” and had a passive/aggressive personality with “intense feelings of inadequacy” and that he was a sexual sadist. Wilkinson also concluded that defendant engaged in malingering behavior and attacked the defense contention that he was schizophrenic.
Wilkinson said that based on a study of over 300 murderers, he concluded that Jablonski was a serial killer, which he defined as someone who has the need to kill in order to release internal tensions. That, the doctor testified, was the reason he made the tape recording and made notes about the murders in his address book.
Flight After Crime
While a serial killer may or may not be insane, Wilkinson said, Jablonski understood the nature of his actions. The doctor cited the defendant’s awareness that he had to be alone when he confronted the victims and his flight after the crime.
Wilkinson added that there was nothing to indicate that, even though he knew his conduct was legally wrong, the defendant believed he was morally justified in murdering the victims.
The trial judge admitted Wilkinson’s testimony over defense objection, finding that the probative value outweighed any prejudice. That ruling was not an abuse of discretion, Moreno wrote for the high court.
“Defendant cites no authority for the proposition that the only expert evidence admissible on the issue of a defendant’s sanity must be confined to classifications of mental disease or disorder found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,” the justice wrote. “As Dr. Wilkinson testified, the phenomenon of serial murderers has been the subject of professional interest in the psychiatric community, and his testimony regarding the behavior of serial murderers and its relation to defendant’s conduct as it bore on the question of his sanity was undoubtedly relevant to that issue.”
As to prejudice, Moreno wrote:
“In relation to the testimony the jury heard regarding the shocking circumstances of defendant’s crimes, Dr. Wilkinson’s testimony was relatively innocuous.”
The case is People v. Jablonski, 06 S.O.S. 268.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company