Friday, April 4, 2008
Court Upholds Death Sentence in Killings of Placer County Women
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday upheld the death sentence for the convicted killer of two Placer County women.
Chief Justice Ronald M. George, in a 161-page opinion for a unanimous court, said there was no prejudicial error at the trial of David A. Rundle. Rundle was convicted of two counts of attempted rape and two counts of first degree murder with rape-murder and multiple-murder special circumstances in the deaths of Caroline Garcia and Lanciann Sorensen.
Rundle, who is also serving a life-without-parole sentence for a Sacramento County murder, to which he pled no contest while appealing his conviction and sentence in the Placer County case, confessed to sexually assaulting and killing the two women in separate incidents.
In his trial testimony, however, he contradicted his statements to police, claiming he clearly remembered the killings, which he said he committed during a period of heavy drug use, and that he formed the intent to have sex with the women only after he killed them.
Rundle’s appellate lawyer, Deputy State Public Defender Denise Anton, argued that the defense attorneys at trial, Lawrence Smith and David Humphreys, had a conflict of interest resulting from the disclosure of a comment allegedly made by a juror in a public area of the courthouse, suggesting the possibility that he had decided the defendant was guilty prior to deliberations.
Smith told the judge in camera that his source for that information was his wife, who worked at a local newspaper, and that she had heard it from a reporter for the newspaper. He expressed concern that if the information became public, his wife could be fired for disclosing the information to him.
Judge Richard Gilbert held a hearing at which the reporter testified that he had not heard any such comment. He was not asked about any conversation he might have had with Smith’s wife, who was not called as a witness.
Once the verdicts were returned, the judge questioned the jurors, each of whom said he or she had not made any comment about the case outside of deliberations nor heard any such comment made by another juror. Gilbert took no further action with regard to the supposed comment.
George, writing yesterday for the high court, said Smith and Humphreys had a conflict that may have induced them to pursue the juror misconduct claim less aggressively than they would have otherwise. But this was not the type of conflict from which a presumption of prejudice arises, the chief justice wrote, so the burden was on the defense to show a likelihood that the conflict affected the outcome.
No such showing was made, George wrote, since there was no proof that the juror made the statement or that a mistrial would have been necessary if he had, or that more aggressive questioning by defense counsel would have led to stronger evidence of misconduct.
Deputy Attorney General Michael Farrell argued for the prosecution before the Supreme Court.
The case is People v. Rundle, 08 S.O.S. 1937.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company