Friday, July 25, 2008
High Court Rejects Jury Selection Discrimination Claim
Court Upholds Death Sentence for Killing Sheriff’s Deputy
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday upheld the death sentence for a man who shot and killed a Shasta County sheriff’s deputy with the officer’s own gun.
Justice Marvin Baxter, writing for a unanimous court, rejected arguments that Hispanics were discriminated against in jury selection at the trial of Tomas Verano Cruz for the murder of Ken Perrigo.
The handcuffed Cruz, according to testimony, was able to obtain a pistol Perrigo had in a fanny pack under the front seat of his patrol car Cruz shot the officer in the back of the head as he drove. The deputy had arrested Cruz and Carlos Estrada for public drunkenness in the eastern Shasta County community of McArthur and was transporting them to a rendezvous point at which another deputy would take custody and transport them to the jail in Redding.
After the shooting, the car swerved off the highway, crashed, and rolled over, enabling the two men to kick their way out of the back seat. Estrada then shot Perrigo in the neck as he sat slumped over the steering wheel, according to testimony.
The men were captured about 25 miles from the crash site, after a five-day manhunt.
The were tried in Sonoma County, after prosecutors agreed to a change of venue. Both were convicted of first degree murder, with special circumstances of killing to escape custody, killing an officer in the performance of his lawful duties, and lying in wait.
Cruz was sentenced to death and Estrada to life in prison without possibility of parole.
On appeal, Cruz, a Mexican national, argued that the prosecutor violated the Batson/Wheeler rule barring discrimination in the exercise of peremptory challenges. He noted that prosecutors used peremptory challenges to strike one woman who was married to a Hispanic and a young Hispanic man, and claimed that their responses to questions were not significantly different from those of non-Hispanics who were unchallenged.
But Justice Marvin Baxter, while agreeing that the defendant was entitled to the benefit of a comparative juror analysis under another case decided yesterday, People v. Lenix, said there was no showing of discrimination.
The justice explained that even if the requisite showing had been made with respect to the female potential juror, the Batson/Wheeler rule would not apply because she was not Hispanic and being married to a member of a cognizable group is not the same thing as being a member of that group.
As for the man, Baxter explained that the would-be juror’s questionnaire confirmed the prosecutor’s contention that the juror had very limited life experience and had an unusually positive view of the criminal justice system, saying it “has gotten better over the years” and that “I would have to say I like it so far.”
This did not, contrary to the defense argument, place him in the same category as other potential jurors, whose views of the system, while generally positive, were qualified by such statements as that it “works well with some faults,” was “fair,” or “works fairly well,” Baxter said.
The justice also noted that the man failed to respond to questions asking his views of criminal defense lawyers, prosecutors, and police. This was not the same, Baxter said, as other jurors’ marking the questions “no opinion” or “don’t know.”
The case is People v. Cruz, 08 S.O.S. 4409.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company