Tuesday, February 6, 2007
S.C. Upholds Death Sentence for ‘Classic Psychopath’
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday unanimously affirmed the conviction and death sentence of a man described by a mental health expert who testified in his defense as a “classic psychopath.”
Justice Carlos Moreno, writing for the court, rejected contentions that Richmond police unlawfully tricked or coerced Robert Lee Smith into making inconsistent statements that were used by prosecutors at his trial for the murders of Michelle Dorsey and James Martin.
Dorsey, with whom Smith had a “boyfriend, girlfriend type of relationship” according to Smith’s brother, was described by Moreno in a footnote as “a biological male who dressed and lived as a female.” Martin was Dorsey’s brother.
Dorsey and Martin were shot and killed on March 23, 1991 at their Richmond apartment. Smith was in Dorsey’s car when it was pulled over the next day, and a gun registered to Dorsey was found in the car.
Police later testified that when they interviewed Smith, he did not admit the shootings, but gave inconsistent stories about how he got the gun. Eventually, he admitted having been at the apartment, but claimed the shooter was a then-14-year old, identified only as Joseph A., who was described as Dorsey’s godson and often visited Dorsey and Martin at the apartment.
Smith also said he helped Joseph and two other men take a safe from the apartment to Dorsey’s car and taking some money and other small items. When police re-interviewed him hours later after interviewing Joseph, he admitted that he and Joseph were the only ones other than the victims in the apartment, but again denied that he shot Martin or Dorsey.
Smith was charged with two counts of murder in the first degree, as well as robbery, attempted robbery, unlawful taking of a vehicle, first degree burglary, and other offenses.
He pled not guilty by reason of insanity.
Prior to trial, the defense sought to suppress his statements to police. But Contra Costa Superior Court Judge Richard E. Arnason ruled that the techniques used by police, including the use of what the detectives called the “Neutron Proton Negligence Intelligence Test,” did not amount to coercion.
The detectives told Smith that the “test” could determine whether he had recently fired a gun. They sprayed soap on his hands, patted them with a towel, then applied a substance used in the field to test for cocaine.
It was after being told that he had tested positive for gunshot residue that he changed his story and admitted that only he and Joseph had been present, but continued to deny being the shooter.
At trial, the jury found the defendant guilty of the murders and most of the other charges, and found him to have been sane at the time. In the penalty phase, prosecutors presented incident of numerous incidents of violence by Smith during his time in the California Youth Authority and since being arrested for the murders, including assaults on custody officers and comments to the effect that he had nothing to lose because he expected to get the death penalty.
The defense failed to convince jurors that Smith deserved a life sentence because he had been subjected to severe abuse at the hands of his father, who had also been incarcerated for crimes of violence.
Writing for the Supreme Court, Moreno said there was nothing coercive about the “neutron proton” test, and that it had no impact on the verdict because it did not result in a confession.
Moreno noted that police have the right to deceive suspects, as long as the method used is not “so coercive that it tended to produce a statement that was involuntary or unreliable.” He cited cases upholding such tactics as falsely telling a suspect that an accomplice had confessed, lying about the existence of evidence implicating the suspect, telling a wounded suspect he might die before reaching the hospital, falsely telling witness his fingerprints had been found on a getaway car, and falsely telling a suspect that he had been identified by an eyewitness.
The case is People v. Smith, 07 S.O.S. 650.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company