Friday, August 25, 2006
Court Upholds Death Sentences in 1989 Local Church Shootings
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday unanimously affirmed the death sentences for two half-brothers convicted of killing a cousin and a friend of the estranged wife of one of the defendants.
Albert Lewis and Anthony Cedric Oliver, convicted of the 1989 murders of Patrinella Luke and Eddie Mae Lee during a Friday night service at the Mount Olive Church of God and Christ, were sentenced to death by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Jacqueline Connor following a jury trial.
Among other things, they contended on appeal that prosecutors exhibited racial bias when they removed several African American venire members via peremptory challenges.
Witnesses testified that Lewis had a history of domestic violence towards Jeanett Hudson and Cynthia Mizell. He had persuaded Mizell that Hudson, with whom he was living when he and Mizell met, were merely friends, but Mizell later learned that Lewis and Hudson were married, rendering Lewis’ marriage to Mizell invalid.
Mizell then left Lewis, who had threatened her. Mizell, who would normally have been at the Friday church service where the shotgun shootings occurred, said she went to Las Vegas with other family members so that Lewis could not find them.
Prosecutors said Oliver shot and killed Luke and Lee, and severely wounded Luke’s husband, while Lewis stood lookout outside the church. Oliver, according to testimony, had viewed Mizell and Lewis’ wedding album not long before the shootings, and thus would have been able to recognize Mizell’s friends and relatives.
The defendants’ first trial ended after defense lawyers moved for a mistrial. The trial was in progress in 1992, at the time of the acquittal of the officers charged with beating motorist Rodney King and the ensuing riots.
At the second trial a short time later, potential jurors were asked to complete a questionnaire that included queries regarding their attitudes about the King trial and the ensuing events, and follow-up questions were asked during voir dire.
The defense made several motions for mistrial based on alleged discrimination in the exercise of voir dire, but all were denied, the judge finding that all of the stricken venire members had expressed attitudes that the prosecutor might legitimately consider anti-police, anti-prosecution, or anti-death penalty.
The jury eventually found both defendants guilty of two counts of first degree murder and one count of attempted murder, and found a multiple-murder allegation to be true as to both defendants.
In the penalty phase, prosecutors introduced evidence of past violent conduct involving both defendants.
Connor denied the defense motions for new trial and to modify the death penalty verdict.
On appeal, the defense argued that it was unfair and discriminatory to strike potential jurors who were black because they expressed views that were more commonly held among African Americans than whites, such as that police target African Americans, that the death penalty is imposed more often on blacks than whites, and that blacks generally are treated more harshly than whites in the criminal justice system.
But Justice Marvin Baxter, writing for the court, said the argument does not comport with the rulings in Batson v. Kentucky (1986) 476 U.S. 79 and People v. Wheeler (1978) 22 Cal.3d 258, holding that removal of potential jurors based solely on race violates the federal and California constitutions.
“Batson and Wheeler are intended to limit reliance on stereotypes about certain groups in exercising peremptory challenges. Defendants invoke Batson and Wheeler to preclude the excusal of a member of a cognizable group who expresses personal biases — and thus to foreclose individualized treatment of that prospective juror — if the biases expressed are presumably common to that group. Such an approach stands the law on its head, and promotes the very group stereotyping that Batson and Wheeler forbid. A party does not offend Batson or Wheeler when it excuses prospective jurors who have shown orally or in writing, or through their conduct in court, that they personally harbor biased views.”
The justice rejected the remainder of the defense contentions, including the argument that Connor erred in denying a request—made six years after the sentencing— that her handwritten notes of the penalty phase be made part of the record. Oliver’s appellate counsel had argued that the record should be augmented because Connor, when she denied the motion to modify the penalty verdict, said she had relied in part upon those notes.
The notes were apparently destroyed before the request, Baxter said. But even if they were still available, there was no reason to make them part of the record, the justice said.
“The notes were the court’s own work product, and personal to the judge.... They are not public or court records in the sense that they represent or record the official work or actions of the judge or his clerk....We decline to find error.”
The case was argued on appeal by court-appointed attorneys Eric S. Multhaup and Robert M. Myers for the defense and Deputy Attorney General Alan D. Tate for the prosecution.
In another capital case decided yesterday, the justices unanimously affirmed the death sentence for Darren C. Stanley, sentenced to death by Alameda Superior Court Judge Alfred A. Delucchi for stabbing a man to death during a robbery. The victim was pumping gas at an Oakland service station during early morning hours at the time of the crime.
The defendant was also convicted of six knifepoint robberies and an attempted robbery, and of the attempted murder of one of the robbery victims, all of the crimes occurring during a two-week period in December 1988 and January 1989, and in the same general area. Stanley had six prior convictions, for burglary, and had served time in prison.
Baxter, writing for the court, rejected numerous claims of error in jury selection, as well as in the guilt and penalty phases, including a Batson/Wheeler argument that the prosecution had improperly stricken jurors for expressing “sympathy for the defendant.”
The cases are People v. Lewis, 06 S.O.S. 4433, and People v. Stanley, 06 S.O.S. 4468.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company