Friday, August 10, 2007
S.C. Upholds Death Sentence for Killer of Orange County Woman
Justices Unanimously Reject Claim That Police Detective Dissuaded Defense Witnesses
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday unanimously affirmed the death sentence for an ex-Marine convicted of robbing and killing an Orange County woman after trying to rape her.
Justice Marvin Baxter agreed with Orange Superior Court Judge Everett W. Dickey that there were sufficient aggravating circumstances to support the death penalty for Timothy L. DePriest, whose lawyers argued that he should be spared because of a difficult childhood.
DePriest treated Hong Thi Nguyen “as a piece of garbage,” brutally murdering the Fountain Valley woman after trying to rape her in an alcove in Garden Grove, Dickey said.
While DePriest’s upbringing—his mother was a single parent who testified at his trial that she spent her time drinking, carousing, and enjoying serial lesbian relationships instead of being attentive to her son—“may not be ideal,” the judge said, it was not severely abusive and did not outweigh the brutality of Nguyen’s murder and DePriest’s record as the perpetrator of numerous violent felonies.
DePriest, raped two women in Twentynine Palms in 1981, then committed several sexual assaults, robberies and other crimes before being arrested in Missouri five days after he killed Nguyen in 1989.
Testimony indicated Nguyen was rushing home from her job as a bridal-shop seamstress to tend to her newborn daughter when DePriest confronted her. Her half-naked, bloody body was found shortly afterward behind a drugstore, with her purse and car missing, and DePriest later admitted using her credit card.
DePriest raped another woman in Missouri five days after the killing and shot a police officer in the chest before being arrested. He was sentenced to life plus 57 years in prison for those crimes before being returned to California for trial on the murder charge.
The defense argued that there was insufficient proof that the defendant, who did not testify, had killed Nguyen, as opposed to having stumbled across her property after the actual killer abandoned it.
But Baxter, writing for the high court, said jurors were entitled to infer that DePriest, who had just told his girlfriend he was planning to return to Missouri, where he grew up, robbed and killed Nguyen because he needed money and a car for the trip and would not have gone to such lengths as hiding the car at a friend’s house, removing the plates, telling acquaintances it was his girlfriend’s car, and attempting to kill a police officer to avoid arrest if he was a mere thief and not a killer.
Baxter also rejected the argument that a police detective intimidated potential defense witnesses, including the defendant’s mother and a cousin. The detective allegedly told DePriest’s mother that she should not feel responsible for her son’s acts, and told his cousin that records showed that DePriest had homosexual relations with a young boy and asked the cousin if he was that boy.
The type of police misconduct claimed by the defense, the justice noted, is not grounds for setting aside a conviction or sentence unless it is “so egregious and improper as to turn a willing defense witness into an unwilling one,” and deprives the accused of testimony that is both favorable and material. .
The comment to Mary DePriest, Baxter said, was not improper. In any event, he wrote, it did not harm the defense because Mary DePriest told the detective she did not feel responsible for her son’s crimes, and because she did testify as a defense witness in the penalty phase and gave testimony that was helpful to the defense case in mitigation.
As for cousin Mitchell DePriest, there was no direct evidence that he would have given favorable testimony if called to the stand.
Any inference that, as a family member intimately acquainted with the defendant, he would have served as a favorable character witness was rebutted by evidence that he had told the detective that the defense did not consider him favorable and that his sympathies were primarily with the victim’s family rather than the defendant, Baxter said.
The case is People v. DePriest, 07 S.O.S. 4984.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company