Thursday, March 1, 2007
C.A. Orders Partial Severance of Charges Against Slaying Suspect
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A man facing a third trial for the murder of a 12-year-old Huntington Beach girl in 1979 may be tried at the same time for the murders of two young women in Los Angeles County during the same time period, the Fourth District Court of Appeal has ruled.
Div. Three Tuesday granted, in part, a petition for writ of mandate or prohibition brought by Rodney J. Alcala, who has spent more than 20 years on death row for the 1979 murder of Robin Samsoe. While fighting his conviction and death sentence in that case, he was indicted for four murders in Los Angeles County, and prosecutors wanted to try him in a single trial in Orange County for all five killings.
Prosecutors say Alcala murdered Jill Barcomb, 18; Georgia Wixted, 27; Charlotte Lamb, 32, and Jill Parenteau, 21 between late-1977 and mid-1979. The women were sexually assaulted, then beaten or strangled.
The 2005 indictment charges special circumstances of torture, multiple murder, robbery, rape, burglary and oral copulation. Prosecutors said they were able to charge Alcala long after the crimes were committed because of DNA and blood testing.
Orange Superior Court Judge Francisco Briseno had ruled that all murders could be tried together under Penal Code Secs. 790(b) and 954.1.
The former provision allows joinder of special-circumstance murder charges arising in different counties, along with factually related lesser charges, if the murders are “connected together in their commission.” The latter allows consolidation of “two or more different offenses of the same class of crimes,” even if evidence of one of those offenses would be inadmissible in a separate trial of another.
Both laws were enacted subsequent to the crimes with which Alcala was charged.
Initial Conviction Reversed
Alcala was initially found guilty of the Samsoe murder and sentenced to death. That conviction was reversed in 1984, when the California Supreme Court established a new standard for admitting evidence of other crimes.
The case turned out to have political implications, as the victim’s mother recorded a television commercial urging voters to reject three members of the high court majority who were facing retention in 1986. Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird and Justices Joseph Grodin and Cruz Reynoso were ousted, the only members of the high court ever denied new terms by the voters.
Alcala was again convicted and sentenced to death, and the state high court affirmed in 1992. But U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson ordered a third trial, saying that defense counsel was ineffective and that the trial judge unduly hampered the defense presentation of evidence, and the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.
In seeking to overturn Briseno’s order and limit the Orange County retrial to the Samsoe case, Alcala’s attorneys argued that the consolidation statutes were being applied retroactively in violate of the defendant’s constitutional rights and that the cases were, even under those laws, too dissimilar to support consolidation.
‘Marks of Similarity’
Presiding Justice David Sills, writing for the Court of Appeal, rejected the arguments concerning retroactivity. The statutes, he explained, only concern trial procedure and do not reduce the prosecution’s burden of proof or otherwise operate as ex post facto laws.
Sills went on to conclude that there would be no fundamental unfairness in requiring Alcala to defend himself on the Samsoe, Parenteau, and Lamb charges in a single trial.
The presiding justice acknowledged that there were differences between the cases. While Samsoe was a child and it could not be determined whether she was sexually assaulted because of the condition of her remains when they were discovered two weeks after she disappeared while riding a bicycle to a ballet class, Parenteau and Lamb were adults who were clearly the victims of sexual assault.
But it is not the dissimilarities between the cases that determine whether they can be consolidated, it is the “marks of similarity,” Sills wrote.
“In the Parenteau, Lamb and Samsoe cases, all the victims were young, trim, White females. Moreover, Parenteau was a cyclist and Samsoe was a ballet dancer, both very lean and athletic. All three victims were taken away or isolated from all other persons, and all were brutalized. Although the actual cause of death was indiscernible in the Samsoe case, all three victims had received severe blunt force trauma injuries to the face and head; Samsoe’s severed head showed that her teeth had been bashed. In Lamb’s case, an earring had been removed from the victim; in Parenteau’s case, her jewelry case had been ransacked, whereas Robin Samsoe had her earring stolen from her earlobe. Earrings from Lamb and Samsoe were found together in Alcala’s possession in a locker that he had attempted to hide from the authorities. The Parenteau and Samsoe murders occurred within a week of each other, and all three occurred in adjacent counties. All the victims received severely brutal injuries to the neck and throat, with Samsoe’s neck having been partially severed and Lamb’s throat cartilage having been fractured. Finally, both Parenteau and Samsoe, while in the company of girlfriends, had met and socialized with Alcala prior to their respective deaths.”
The Barcomb and Winsted murders, on the other hand, had fewer marks of similarity, Sills said. In addition, their inclusion in the consolidated case would be prejudicial because they possess “fairly insurmountable DNA evidence,” he said.
The case is Alcala v. Superior Court (People), 07 S.O.S. 1065.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company