Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Death Penalty Upheld for Man Who Killed Mother on Mother’s Day
Justices Reject Claim of Gender Bias by Defendant Whose Girlfriend Received Life Term
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday upheld the death sentence for a man who killed his mother and the mother of his child on Mother’s Day, 1995, at Universal Studios CityWalk.
In a 5-2 decision, the justices affirmed the death sentence for Paul Carasi. In doing so, they rejected contentions that Carasi, who was convicted along with his then-girlfriend Donna Lee, should have received a separate penalty trial in order to avoid the alleged tendency of jurors to punish men more severely than women for the same crimes.
A Los Angeles Superior Court jury in Santa Monica found Carasi and Lee guilty of the murders of Doris Carasi and Sonia Salinas in a remote section of the CityWalk parking garage. Carasi claimed that the killers were knife-wielding robbers who accosted the family and took them by surprise, but prosecutors noted that Carasi did not have serious wounds, that most of the blood on his clothes came from Salinas, and that he told inconsistent stories about the attack to a police officer and a paramedic at the scene.
History of Violence
They also presented witnesses who said Carasi, who worked at a Bank of America check processing center in downtown Los Angeles—as did Salinas and Lee—spoke often of his resentment of Salinas and how he’d be better off if she were dead and he didn’t have to pay child support, and also accused her of trying to estrange him from their son. They also established his history of violence against women.
Lee, who was also stabbed during the attack, allegedly by prearrangement with Carasi, was linked to the murders after she called for help from an emergency callbox on the 170 Freeway. Police found several bloodstained items belonging to Carasi and the victims in or near Lee’s car.
Jurors found Carasi and Lee guilty of first degree murder with special circumstances of multiple murder, lying in wait, and murder for financial gain. They voted the death penalty for Carasi and deadlocked 10-2 in favor of the death penalty for Lee, who was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole after prosecutors declined to ask for a new penalty trial.
Judge Leslie Light, who has since retired, denied Carasi’s motion to modify the death penalty verdict, calling the crimes “almost beyond description in their monstrousness and their incomprehensibility,” according to a news report at the time.
Justice Marvin Baxter, writing for the high court, said the defense presented nothing to show that the joint penalty trial was unfair to Carasi, based on its argument that such trials are “inherently skewed” against male defendants and in favor of female codefendants due to “misplaced chivalry” by lay jurors.
“Defendant offers only generalized assumptions about cultural stereotypes and gender biases in criminal cases,” the justice wrote. “Nothing suggests the jury failed to properly perform its sentencing function in reaching different outcomes for defendant...and Lee....Indeed, there were bases in the evidence for this disparity. Defendant was the leader in the killings, and codefendant Lee was the determined follower. The prosecutor noted that they were ‘equally responsible’ for the slayings, but that the penalty determination was ‘separate’ as to each defendant.”
The trial judge, Baxter added, correctly instructed jurors to return a separate verdict as to each defendant based on the evidence.
Baxter was joined by Chief Justice Ronald M. George and Justices Carlos Moreno, Ming Chin, and Carol Corrigan.
Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar, joined by Justice Joyce L. Kennard, dissented on the ground that Light unduly limited the selection process by declining to question jurors on whether the fact that the victims were the defendant’s mother and the mother of his child would cause them to automatically vote for the death penalty.
Baxter said that issue was not raised at trial and was therefore forfeited. Werdegar, however, argued that the defense had generally objected to the judge’s limits as to questioning would-be jurors about how specific circumstances would affect their views on the death penalty and that “any failure on defendant’s part to make a more specific objection would be excused on grounds of futility.”
She also argued that the defense was correct on the merits because “[t]hat [defendant] and Salinas together brought another life into the world, and that by his hand defendant deprived his son of not only his grandmother but his own mother as well, could very likely have confirmed for a reasonable prospective juror that a life sentence for defendant could never be justified.”
The case was argued on appeal by Mill Valley lawyer Eric Multhaup, as court-appointed attorney for the defendant, and by Deputy Attorney General Ana R. Duarte of Los Angeles.
The case is People v. Carasi, 08 S.O.S. 5187.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company