Friday, August 29, 2008
Death Sentence Upheld for White Supremacist in Hate Crime
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday unanimously upheld the death sentence for a former Tustin resident who killed a Vietnamese American on the Tustin High School campus, a murder found by the jury to be in part motivated by hatred of non-whites.
In upholding the death sentence for Gunner Jay Lindberg, the court said there was ample evidence to prove that the death of Thien Minh Ly was a hate crime, and also that it occurred during the attempted commission of a robbery. The justices also approved the prosecution’s use of expert testimony to explain the relationship between Lindberg’s killing of Ly and the racist literature and writings police found in the defendant’s home.
Ly, 24, was killed on the tennis courts at the high school the night of Jan. 28, 1996 where he had gone to rollerblade. His body was found the next morning.
He suffered numerous slash and stab wounds, including 14 blows to the heart.
Police arrested Lindberg after he wrote a letter to a cousin saying he had “killed a jap a while ago.” The letter was extremely detailed, identifying “Dominic” as his accomplice and explaining that the victim was rollerblading when Lindberg hit him and knocked him to the ground.
The victim told Lindberg “you can have whatever I got,” the letter related, and that “I have nothing only a key.” Lindberg said “you got a car,” and began stabbing with a butcher knife.
He said he “stabbed his back about 18 or 19 times,” that “Dominic said ‘kill him do it again’ and ‘stab him in the heart,’” and that he “stabbed him about 20 to 21 times in the heart and we took off.”
After obtaining the letter from New Mexico police, who got it from relatives of Lindberg’s cousin, police obtained a warrant to search Lindberg’s home, where they found and arrested Lindberg and Domenic Michael Christopher, a teenage friend. They found and seized various items, including a poster with the title “Celebrate Martin Luther King Day,” reading at the bottom “If they would have shot four more, we could have had the rest of the week off from work.”
Other items seized extolled white supremacy; referred to the National Association for the Advancement of White People, the Aryan Movement, “The Crusade for Christ and Country,” “The Nationalist Party of Canada,” and other “Pro White Organizations,” including the Aryan Research Fellowship, the Ku Klux Klan, and the White Aryan Resistance; and other items depicting swastikas.
Lindberg, in speaking to police after waiving Miranda rights, claimed that he knew about the murder from television and newspapers but had nothing to do with it. Confronted with his letter, he claimed that he had made up the whole story, but admitted it was “kind of odd” that the details in the letter matched facts that had not been released to the press.
Lindberg and Christopher were also linked to the murder through DNA evidence.
The defense contended that the murder was a random attack by an angry and violent person, not motivated by race or an intent to rob. Jurors, however, found the defendant guilty of murder in the first degree, with hate-crime and attempted-robbery special circumstances, and Orange Superior Court Judge Robert Fitzgerald imposed the death sentence.
Justice Carlos Moreno, writing for the high court, rejected the defense contentions that the special-circumstance allegations lacked substantial support in the evidence.
Moreno rejected the argument that the hate-murder special circumstances should be subject to a less deferential standard of review, in order to assure that a defendant will not be subjected to the death penalty merely because he harbors and expresses constitutionally protected racist views.
That a person’s views are constitutionally protected, he explained, does not preclude the prosecution from presenting evidence of those views in order to prove the motivation behind a crime.
“Here, the jury reasonably could infer from the evidence that defendant, who is White, was a follower of the White supremacy movement and advocated racial hatred,” Moreno wrote. The materials seized from Lindberg’s bedroom, together with evidence that he actively participated in the white supremacy movement, bragged of running a racist prison gang while incarcerated in Missouri in 1993, referred to the victim as a “jap,” and admitted to others that he disliked “gooks” and used other racist terms for the victim in talking about the killing, established the racist motivation for the crime, Moreno said.
The justice also rejected the argument that Fitzgerald abuse his discretion in allowing Tustin Police Dept. Sgt. Ronald Miller to testify about the white supremacist movement. Miller explained that he had been dealing with skinheads and other racists for 10 years, and that a “white supremacist” is “a racist who is oriented toward the superiority of the white race, believing that it is above all others” and tending “to view minorities as . . . sub-humans.”
He also explained that such people “are also quite often anti-semitic even to the point that they label the Holocaust as a Jewish trick to garner support and sympathy for the Jews throughout the world.” He opined from Lindberg’s writings and literature, and his knowledge of the groups and individuals mentioned therein, that Lindberg was a white supremacist.
That testimony, Moreno wrote, was admissible to explain the relationship between the persons and groups mentioned in the literature and the defendant’s motivation for killing Ly, since those persons and groups were not necessarily well known to the jurors. The testimony was not unduly prejudicial, he said, because it was consistent with other, properly admitted evidence.
Chief Justice Ronald M. George and Justices Carol Corrigan, Marvin Baxter, Ming Chin, and Kathryn M. Werdegar joined in the opinion.
Justice Joyce L. Kennard concurred separately.
Kennard argued that Miller should not have been allowed to testify about the relationship of modern-day white supremacist beliefs to anti-Semitism, since there was no evidence that the defendant was an anti-Semite or that he thought Ly was Jewish, but the justice found no basis for reversal.
”Given the compelling evidence that Ly’s murder was a racially motivated hate crime, the trial court’s erroneous admission of Miller’s testimony that some White supremacist groups were anti-Semitic was harmless under any standard of prejudice and could not have affected the outcome of either the guilt or the penalty phase of defendant’s trial,” she wrote.
The case is People v. Lindberg, 08 S.O.S. 5230.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company