Friday, July 6, 2007
Appeals Court Upholds Conviction in Gang Murder
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
An admitted member of the Six Deuce East Coast Crips gang, convicted of first degree murder, was not prejudiced by a gang expert’s testimony that it was “very, very highly, highly unlikely” that the defendant did not know his accomplices intended to shoot, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.
Justice Frances Rothschild, writing for Div. One, said Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Johnson might have erred in allowing the expert to opine regarding Edward Hunter’s subjective intent.
But any error was harmless, under the reasonable probability standard, because the defendant’s statements to police and the testimony of a survivor of the shooting were sufficient to show that he knew what was going to happen, the justice said.
The survivor, David Hampton, testified that he and his neighbor William Johnson were standing on Johnson’s front porch when two men whom he did not know got out of a gray Chrysler and walked by. Hampton said that he and Johnson were “concerned” and that he told Johnson to go inside.
As he stepped off the porch, he testified, the two men started firing. Hampton said he escaped into Johnson’s backyard but that Johnson was hit.
Prosecution witnesses testified that Johnson died from a single gunshot wound to the chest, and that a 12 expended shell casings, but no gun, were found at the scene.
Police linked Hunter to the crime through an informant, who told them that Hunter had bragged about his involvement in “a shooting...on the Broadways.” A gang expert testified that the Six Deuce East Coast Crips and the Five Deuce Broadway Crips were involved in a turf war at the time that included retaliatory shootings.
The informant, police said, also told them that the shooter was a gang member called “Asmo.” Police said they apprehended Hunter about five months later, and got three statements from him.
In the first statement, Hunter denied being present at the shootings; in the second, he admitted being in the gray Chrysler—which police learned had been rented around the time of the shootings by the mother of an East Coast Crips member—but denied being armed or knowing that a shooting was planned; in the third, he reiterated those claims but said that there were two other gang members involved, whereas in his second statement he said there were three.
The prosecution’s gang expert explained that the Johnson house was in “the hardest part” of territory claimed by the Broadway Crips, and that if several East Coast Crips got out of a car in that area, “there’s a certain reason they’re going there for, and it’s not just to take a stroll.”
The prosecutor argued that Hunter’s statements to police and to the informant, who testified, and Hampton’s description of the car’s movements before, during, and after the shooting, were sufficient to establish that Hunter aided and abetted the shooter by driving him to and from the scene.
The jury found Hunter guilty of first degree murder and attempted premeditated murder, with special findings that it was a gang crime and that a principal used a firearm. Johnson sentenced him to 50 years to life in prison.
Rothschild, writing for the Court of Appeal, said any error in admitting the gang expert’s opinion regarding Hunter’s intent was harmless because jurors would probably have convicted him regardless.
“Although no eyewitness placed Hunter at the crime scene and no forensic evidence linked him to the crime, Hampton’s account of the shooting demonstrated that the Chrysler’s driver shared the shooters’ intent before and after the crime and aided them by dropping them off in front of their intended targets and then positioning the car to facilitate their quick and successful escape,” the justice said.
The case was argued on appeal by Daniel G. Koryn, by appointment, for the defendant and by Deputy Attorneys General Steven D. Matthews and G. Tracey Letteau for the state.
The case is People v. Hunter, B192541.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company