Wednesday, September 19, 2007
C.A. Says Inmate Sane When He Killed Cellmate, Upholds Conviction
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A former Lancaster prison inmate failed to establish that he had a valid sanity defense to the charge of killing his cellmate, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday, rejecting the man’s claim that his attorney rendered ineffective assistance by failing to argue that he was unable to distinguish right from wrong.
The court affirmed Frank Perez’s conviction and 85-year-to-life sentence for the murder of 27-year-old Eddie Arraiga in September 2004. Perez was serving a 12-year-sentence for carjacking at the time of the killing.
Div. Three, in an unpublished opinion by Presiding Justice Joan Dempsey Klein, acknowledged that Perez was under psychiatric care at the time of the killing and that much of his behavior around that time was bizarre.
The presiding justice, however, pointed out that because Perez had raised the ineffective assistance issue on direct appeal rather than by writ petition, the court could not evaluate defense counsel’s tactical choices and the burden was on the defendant to show that an insanity defense would have succeeded.
Perez gave several explanations for the killing, saying that he was a hit man for the Mexican Mafia—and that his mother was as well; that Arriaga was dirty and refused to shower, and that his cellmate had “disrespected” him by waving his sexual organ in front of Perez’s face.
Prosecutors said Perez strangled his cellmate with a rope made from part of a bed sheet, which he then attempted to hide by flushing it down the toilet.. After Arraiga’s killing, Perez was transferred from California State Prison-Los Angeles County in Lancaster to Corcoran State Prison, and later to CSP-Sacramento.
Both Perez and Arraiga were in the prison’s administrative segregation unit and were receiving psychological treatment. The inspector general of the state prison system investigated the death—one of five inmate fatalities at the Lancaster prison over a period of several months—and said it was wrong to house violent, mentally troubled inmates in the same cell.
Perez was charged with first degree murder for killing Arriaga, and with the attempted murder of a corrections officer several months later. The latter charge was dismissed after jurors deadlocked 10-2 in favor of conviction, but Perez was found guilty on the murder charge, and Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brian Yep found that he had been previously convicted of two violent or serious felonies.
Because of the prior convictions, Perez received an 85-year-to-life sentence under the Three Strikes Law.
Klein, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the evidence did not support Perez’s claim of insanity. She noted that he had “viciously” attacked his cellmate for 20 minutes, had told another inmate before the attack that he intended to kill Arriaga, was examined by a mental health practitioner employed by the prison who testified that Perez was capable of distinguishing right from wrong and that his statements regarding the attack showed a level of reasoning inconsistent with hallucinations, and was sufficiently aware of what he had done that he attempted to conceal the murder weapon.
The jurist went on to conclude that the manner of killing and the defendant’s statements as to his motives were sufficient to establish premeditation, and said there was no error or prejudice in the joinder of the murder and attempted murder charges.
The case is People v. Perez, B191192.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company