Tuesday, August 8, 2006
S.C. Affirms Convictions, Death Sentence of ‘Night Stalker’
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday unanimously upheld the murder, rape and other convictions and death sentence of “Night Stalker” Richard Ramirez, who terrorized the Los Angeles area during the mid-1980s.
A Los Angeles Superior Court jury convicted Ramirez, 46, in 1989 of 13 counts of murder, five counts of attempted murder, four counts of rape, three counts of forcible oral copulation, four counts of forcible sodomy and 14 counts of burglary arising from 15 separate incidents involving 24 victims during a 14-month period.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Anthony Tynan sentenced Ramirez to death.
The Supreme Court rejected all of Ramirez’s arguments in his automatic appeal, in which he contended that Tynan and then-Los Angeles Municipal Court Judge Elva Soper made errors and abused their discretion.
The court rejected Ramirez’s argument that Soper should have denied his request to substitute attorneys Arturo and Daniel Hernandez—neither of whom had the minimum qualifications to be appointed by a court in a capital case and both of whom had been held in contempt several times—as his counsel.
Justice Carlos R. Moreno, writing for the court, said:
“A defendant whose request to substitute counsel is granted cannot complain on appeal that the trial court should have denied that request. The defendant’s only contention on appeal in such circumstances can be that he or she was denied effective assistance of counsel.”
But Ramirez said he was saving that argument for a separate habeas petition.
The court held that Tynan did not err in denying a defense motion to appoint a psychiatrist to evaluate Ramirez, noting that Tynan said his observations raised no question in his mind about Ramirez’s competence, and one of the attorneys who was about to be substituted in as counsel vouched for Ramirez’s competence.
Moreno said that Ramirez’s actions—after his arrest he invited the police to kill him and asked to borrow a gun so he could kill himself while in jail awaiting trial, he used his blood to draw a pentagram on the floor and write the number 666 during his arraignment he said, “Hail Satan,” and displayed a pentagram and the number 666 on his palm— made it reasonable for Tynan to fear that Ramirez would act violently and justified his being shackled during trial.
But Moreno said this conduct did not show that Ramirez’s mental condition resulted in an inability to assist in his defense or to understand the proceedings, so as to require Tynan to order a competency hearing during the trial’s penalty phase.
Tynan did not err in rejecting Ramirez’s request for change of venue, despite the wide media coverage the case generated in Los Angeles, the court held. Moreno said the size of Los Angeles County made it likely than an impartial jury could be chosen, and the passage of more than a year from the time of the extensive media coverage to the time of trial attenuated any possible prejudice.
The court held that Tynan did not abuse his discretion in admitting disturbing photographs of victims, including one where the victim’s eyes had been cut out. Moreno said the photographs were highly relevant to show the manner in which the victims were killed, the kind and degree of force used on them, and the severity of their injuries. He said the photographs clarified the coroner’s testimony, and showed that several of the victims had similar injuries, such as distinctive neck wounds and black eyes, which supported a conclusion that the crimes were committed by the same person.
Consciousness of Guilt
Tynan did not err in instructing the jury that it could consider whether Ramirez’s refusal to remove his sunglasses, as ordered by Tynan so that a witness could identify him, showed a consciousness of guilt, the court held.
The court also held that Tynan did not abuse his discretion when he denied several motions by Ramirez to sever the counts into different groups, dismissed a juror who kept falling asleep both during trial and during jury deliberations, and resumed jury deliberations one day after the jury learned that one of the jurors had been murdered in an incident unrelated to the trial.
Deputy Attorney General Margaret E. Maxwell represented the government before the Supreme Court. La Mesa attorney Geraldine S. Russell, appointed by the court, represented Ramirez.
The case is People v. Ramirez, 06 S.O.S. 4115
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company