Tuesday, August 22, 2006
S.C. Upholds Death Sentence for Deputy Convicted of Killing Prostitutes
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday unanimously affirmed the death sentence imposed on a former Kern County sheriff’s deputy convicted of murdering two prostitutes.
Chief Justice Ronald M. George, writing for the court, rejected a number of contentions raised by the appeal of David Keith Rogers, including claims that the trial judge erred in not ordering a competency hearing and that the defendant should have been given separate trials in the two murders.
Rogers admitted to the 1987 killing of Tracy Clark, a pregnant 15-year-old whose body was fished out of a canal near the community of Lamont. He also admitted ownership of the murder weapon, a .38-caliber automatic handgun reported to have been stolen from a local tavern in 1982.
Rogers claimed that Clark called him “queer” and “faggot” after he was unable to perform sexually during a $30 tryst in his car. He said he opened the passenger door and pushed her out with his feet.
Clark was walking toward him pointing her finger at him, and he felt threatened, so he pointed a gun at her, pulled the trigger, and shot her, he testified, then quickly fired five more shots.
He said he was protecting himself, that he feared Clark and was afraid she would report him.
Rogers had been fired in 1983 for misconduct involving a prostitute, but the punishment was reduced to a suspension. The prostitute who complained about him reportedly disappeared, and Rogers was said to be a suspect in the disappearance, although he was never charged.
Rogers denied involvement in any other killings, but was charged with the murder a year earlier of Jeanine Benintende, a 21-year-old Los Angeles prostitute. Although there was no direct evidence Rogers had killed Benintende, prosecutors noted that she and Clark had both been killed with Rogers’ gun and had been thrown into the same canal, and that there were other similarities that arguably proved that both murders were committed by the same person.
Jurors found Rogers guilty of first degree murder in the killing of Clark and second degree murder in the killing of Benintende. A multiple-murder special circumstance was found true, and Kern Superior Court Judge Gerald Davis imposed the death sentence after denying the defendant’s motion for modification of the jury’s verdict.
In concluding that the sentence should be upheld, George rejected the contention that the defendant’s account of the Clark murder and the testimony of the defense mental health experts should have alerted the judge to the need for a competency hearing. There was, the chief justice noted, no testimony that Rogers’ mental health issues prevented him from understanding the proceedings and assisting his lawyers.
George also concluded that the trial judge acted within his discretion in conducting a joint trial on the two charges, saying the circumstances of the Clark murder were relevant to the issue of whether Rogers killed Benintende, and that it was unlikely that the jurors improperly used evidence of one killing in finding the defendant guilty of the other.
The chief justice also rejected the claim that the multiple-murder finding was improper under People v. Turner (1984) 37 Cal.3d 302, which held that such a finding can only be made if the jury also finds that the defendant specifically intended to kill.
That decision was overruled in a later case, but applies to cases in which the crime occurred between the two decisions, the chief justice explained. But while the Clark and Benintende murders occurred in that window, George wrote, Turner does not bar the death penalty for Rogers.
George explained that by finding Rogers guilty of the premeditated murder of Clark, the jury necessarily found that he specifically intended to kill her. A 1997 decision that remains good law, the chief justice added, disposes of Rogers’ argument that specific intent to kill must be proven as to both murders for the special circumstance to apply under Turner.
The case is People v. Rogers, 06 S.O.S. 4347.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company