Friday, April 7, 2006
State High Court Upholds Death Sentence in Drug-Related Murder
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
The California Supreme Court yesterday unanimously upheld the death sentence imposed on a young San Diego man for the murder of a pregnant woman who may have planned to reveal a plot to kill a drug dealer.
In an opinion by Justice Joyce L. Kennard, the court rejected the contention that Robert Jurado Jr.’s confrontation rights were violated when testimony given in an earlier proceeding by a key witness was admitted at his trial for the murder of Teresa Holloway.
Jurado was 20 years old when Holloway, 26, was strangled and beaten to death May 15, 1991. Her body was found in a culvert beneath Highway 163 in San Diego County two days later.
Prosecutors alleged that Jurado; his girlfriend Anna Humiston; and Denise Shigemura killed Holloway after she learned of their plan to kill Doug Mynatt. Witnesses testified that Mynatt sold methamphetamine and that his customers included Jurado and Brian Johnsen, who had been living with Holloway up until about a month before she was killed.
Humiston, a 17-year-old Patrick Henry High School student at the time of the murder, became a suspect after she bragged to her friends at school that she held the victim while Jurado strangled her. Humiston was sentenced to 25 years to life in state prison, as was Shigemura, who shared an apartment with Jurado.
The plan to kill Mynatt, to whom Jurado allegedly owed money, allegedly came about after the drug dealer supposedly stole Shigemura’s purse. Jurado allegedly shared details of the plot with Johnsen, who was in custody on drug charges at the time.
Prosecutors charged Jurado with first degree murder with the special circumstance of lying in wait, and initially said they would not seek the death penalty. They later added the conspiracy charge.
Following a preliminary hearing, the defense moved to dismiss the special-circumstance allegation under Penal Code Sec. 995. The prosecution, in the meantime, moved to have Johnsen testify at a conditional examination, saying he was in fear of his life.
San Diego Superior Court Judge David Gill Gill granted the motion, and Johnsen testified that he and the defendant had discussed a plan to kill Mynatt and that Jurado later admitted killing Holloway because “it had to be done.”
Later, the judge dismissed the special circumstance allegation and the defendant pled guilty to the remaining charges.
Prior to sentencing, however, the prosecution petitioned the Court of Appeal for a writ of mandate, and that court eventually reinstated the special-circumstance allegation and rejected Jurado’s argument that his guilty plea barred a trial on that allegation under double jeopardy principles.
Jurado then withdrew his guilty plea, pled not guilty, and denied the lying-in-wait allegation. Prosecutors then announced that they had changed their mind about seeking the death penalty, and the judge rejected a defense bid to bar them from doing so.
Jurors found the defendant guilty, determined the special allegation to be true, and returned a death penalty verdict at the end of the penalty phase.
State Public Defender Michael Hersek, who represented Jurado on appeal, argued that a conditional examination cannot be taken by the prosecution in a death penalty case. Deputy Attorney General Marvin Mizell responded that the examination was proper, and that, in any event, the prosecution was not seeking the death penalty at the time of the examination.
Kennard said the prosecution had the better of the argument, reasoning that Penal Code Sec. 1335(a), which allows a conditional examination in any case but bars the prosecution from seeking one in a capital case, does not apply when the examination is sought under Sec. 1336(b). Sec. 1336(b) applies only to serious felony cases and only when there is reason to believe the life of the witness is in danger.
The justice went on to say that there was sufficient reason for Johnsen’s testimony to be taken by conditional examination, even though he had not been threatened.
Saying the trial judge had broad discretion in the matter, the justice wrote:
“Because of the evidence that defendant, Shigemura, and Humiston had killed Holloway to prevent her from exposing a plot to kill Mynatt, the trial court...could justifiably conclude that defendant and the persons with whom he associated would be likely to use deadly force against anyone perceived as a threat, and that the substance of Johnsen’s proposed testimony made him an actual or potential threat to defendant and his codefendants....”
The justice also rejected the argument that the prosecution had impermissibly changed its position and asked for the death penalty in retaliation for the defendant challenging the special-circumstance allegation. While that may have been a factor, the justice wrote, it was not improper for the prosecution to consider it.
Besides, Kennard said, it cannot be assumed that this was the only reason for the prosecution’s shift. Between the time it announced its original position and the time it changed it, she noted, the prosecution case had been bolstered by Johnsen’s testimony at the conditional examination and by the presentation of evidence at Humiston’s trial.
The case is People v. Jurado, 06 S.O.S. 1732.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company