Friday, August 18, 2006
S.C. Upholds Death Sentence in Murder of Witness
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday unanimously upheld the death sentence for a man convicted of killing a gas station attendant whom he had previously robbed, apparently to prevent him from testifying.
The justices upheld Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Paul R. Teilh’s imposition of the maximum sentence in the case of Fermin R. Ledesma, based on a jury conviction. The high court affirmed convictions of first degree murder, kidnapping, and one count of robbery, and findings of true to allegations that Ledesma personally used a firearm in the commission of the offenses and a special circumstance of intentional killing of a witness, but reversed a second conviction of robbery and a robbery special-circumstance finding.
The prosecution’s evidence showed Gabriel Flores was working as an attendant at a Hudson gas station in the City of San Jose in 1978 when Ledesma and another man rode up on a motorcycle and robbed him at gunpoint. Flores reported the robbery to the police and was able to give them the motorcycle’s license number.
The motorcycle was registered to Ledesma.
When officers arrived at Ledesma apartment he was not home, but two visitors, one of whom was Millie Dominguez, let them in. While the officers were there, the telephone rang and one of the officers answered it, pretending to be Dominguez. The caller identified himself as Ledesma and said he was “hot,” that the police were looking for him, and that Dominguez should lock the apartment and the doors of his car and take a walk.
Three days after the robbery, Flores identified Ledesma in a police photographic lineup. The police obtained a warrant and went to Ledesma’s apartment to arrest him.
Ledesma was not there, but his friend Jesse Perez was. Perez resembled Flores’ description of the second robber, so the officers took him into custody for questioning. After telling Perez about the lineup identification of Ledesma and the warrant for Ledesma’s arrest, they let Perez go.
A few days later Flores disappeared. Three days later his body was found in a ravine in the City of Gilroy with four gunshot wounds to his body and two stab wounds to his chest.
No physical evidence connected Ledesma to the gas station robbery or the murder, but a number of witnesses testified that he admitted committing the crimes.
The death sentence imposed by Teilh was the second Ledesma received for the crime. The first was overturned in January 1987 on grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel, one of the last decisions of the court under Chief Justice Rose Bird, before she and two other justices left office after having been denied new terms at the November 1986 general election.
In his second appeal Ledesma argued, and the Supreme Court agreed, that Teilh erred in failing to instruct the jury on the lesser offense of theft regarding the second robbery. The court found there was substantial evidence from which the jury could have concluded that the intent to steal from the Flores was not formed until after the murder, making the offense theft rather than robbery.
The court rejected arguments that Ledesma’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated when the police entered his apartment and answered the phone pretending to be Dominguez.
The court also held that Ledesma’s claim of ineffective assistance of counsel in a habeas petition after the first trial did not waive the attorney-client privilege for purposes of the retrial, but that he did waive the privilege during the retrial when he presented the testimony of expert witnesses who had reviewed and considered privileged material.
The case is People v. Ledesma, 06 S.O.S. 4267
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company