Tuesday, May 6, 2008
S.C. Tosses Death Sentence, Cites Prosecutors’ Discovery Violation
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday ordered a new penalty trial in the killing of an Eagle Rock convenience store clerk.
Justice Kathryn M. Wedegar, writing for a unanimous court, said the death sentence imposed on Adam Miranda for the 1980 killing was tainted because prosecutors, who blamed Miranda for another murder during the penalty phase of his 1982 trial, failed to turn over a letter to the defense in which another man claimed he committed that crime.
Jurors quickly convicted Miranda of the murder of the store clerk, Gary Black, and of assaulting Black’s co-worker, Kelly Chandler. Following a penalty phase that featured testimony that Miranda killed a drug dealer by stabbing him 11 times about two weeks before the Black murder, apparently over a $10 debt, jurors took only 40 minutes to impose the death penalty.
Joseph Saucedo, who was originally charged with killing the drug dealer, Robert Hosey, told police and prosecutors it was Miranda who had done the stabbing. He negotiated an agreement with the then-prosecutor, Lance Ito—now a Los Angeles Superior Court judge—allowing him to plead guilty to assault with a deadly weapon and be placed on probation in exchange for testimony.
Multiple Trial Judges
Ito later withdrew from the case and was replaced by Frederick Horn, now an Orange Superior Court judge and chairman of the Commission on Judicial Performance. Horn later pulled out of the case and was replaced by Curtis Hazell, now a top-level administrator in the District Attorney’s Office.
Saucedo testified that he was present at the Hosey murder but that it was Miranda who stabbed the drug dealer.
Six months after his trial for the Black murder, Miranda pled guilty to second degree murder for killing Hosey.
The death sentence was affirmed on direct appeal in 1987 over dissents by Justices Allen Broussard and Stanley Mosk, both now deceased. The dissenters argued that Miranda received ineffective assistance from defense lawyers Joe Ingber and H. Clay Jacke Sr., who pursued what the majority said was a reasonable strategy of not presenting mitigating evidence that might have done more harm than good.
Prior habeas corpus petitions were denied in 1987, 1989, and 1993. In 1996, however, attorneys pursuing a federal habeas petition discovered a letter, ostensibly written by an inmate named Larry Montez. In the letter, Montez said Saucedo told him that he had stabbed Hosey, threw the knife into the Los Angeles River, and had arranged for his girlfriend to provide him with an alibi.
The attorneys brought a new state habeas petition. The obtained a declaration from a police detective who said he turned it over to Ito.
Ito said he remembered the letter but did not recall whether he turned it over to the defense. He also said the letter was in his file and that he had an “open file” policy and would have allowed defense lawyers to see all of the documents in his possession, including the letter.
Horn and Hazell both said they had no recollection of the letter. Hazell said he assumed his predecessors had turned over all of the discoverable evidence before he took over the case.
The high court appointed San Diego Superior Court Judge Roger Krauel as factfinder. Krauel made no findings of willful misconduct on by prosecutors, but said the letter should have been turned over and that the failure to do so prevented the defense from effectively cross-examining Saucedo and led to the guilty plea for the Hosey murder.
Werdegar, in her opinion yesterday, agreed, saying it was reasonably probable that disclosure of the Montez letter prior to trial would have altered the outcome of the penalty phase.
The case was argued in the high court by Kerry R. Bensinger of Bensinger, Ritt, Tai & Thvedt in Pasadena and George R. Hedges of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges in downtown Los Angeles for the defendant and by Deputy Attorney General J. Michael Lehmann of Los Angeles for the state.
The case is In re Miranda, 08 S.O.S. 2654.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company