Tuesday, July 1, 2008
S.C. Upholds Death Sentence for Man Who Murdered Seven
Manner of Defendant’s Seizure in Mexico No Bar to Jurisdiction Here, Justices Say
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The fact that a Mexican national was seized in that country and returned to California without formal extradition did not bar state courts from trying him or from sentencing him to death, the state Supreme Court ruled yesterday.
The justices unanimously affirmed the death sentence for Ramon Salcido, convicted of six counts of first degree murder with a multiple-murder special circumstance. He was also convicted of second degree murder and two counts of premeditated attempted murder.
Salcido, who worked as a forklift operator at a Sonoma County winery, admitted killing his wife, a co-worker whom he believed was having an affair with her, his two sisters-in-law, ages eight and 12, and two of his daughters, ages one and four. Another daughter, who was three years old, survived having her throat slashed.
Salcido was seized by Mexican Federal Judicial Police, with a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent present, on April 19, 1989, less than a week after the rampage, at a train station outside his family’s hometown of Los Mochis in the state of Sinaloa. He was taken first to Mazatlan, and then to Mexico City, where Sonoma County sheriff’s deputies identified him as their suspect.
Mexican authorities, apparently believing that Salcido was a U.S. citizen, in part because he said he was, delivered him to the deputies, who came to and returned from Mexico in a private plane. The jet was loaned to them by its owner, Charles Schulz, the since-deceased creator of the Peanuts comic strip and a Sonoma County resident.
The defense moved to dismiss, or to preclude imposition of the death sentence, on the ground that Salcido was returned to this country without the protections of the extradition treaty.
The treaty provides that either country may return a person wanted by the other for certain crimes, including murder and attempted murder. It also provides, however, that if a crime is punishable by death, the responding country may insist on assurances that the death penalty will not be imposed, and that if the suspect is a citizen of the responding country, that country has discretion to refuse extradition and try the suspect itself.
San Mateo Superior Court Judge Reginald Littrell, who heard the case due to a change of venue, ruled that the defendant lacked standing to invoke the treaty, because only one of the signatory countries could do so. Mexico, he noted, did not object to Salcido being tried in this country, or to the imposition of the death sentence.
Chief Justice Ronald M. George said the trial judge was correct, citing United States v. Alvarez-Machain (1992) 504 U.S. 655. The defendant in that case was a Mexican doctor abducted from his office and brought to the United States, where he was charged with complicity in the torture and murder of Enrique Camarena, a DEA agent.
Lower courts ruled that the case should be dismissed because the manner in which the defendant was brought to this country violated the treaty. The Supreme Court, however, reversed based on century-old law allowing a court to exercise criminal jurisdiction over any person before it, regardless of how the person came to be within the court’s territory.
“In the present case, no proceedings under color of the Treaty were commenced when defendant was apprehended,” the chief justice wrote. “As federal and state court decisions repeatedly have held, an individual lacks standing to challenge an asserted violation of an international treaty if the sovereign who is a party to the treaty does not protest....Far from protesting defendant’s seizure and rendition, Mexico willingly, if not enthusiastically, accommodated defendant’s request to return to California in light of the avowal of U.S. citizenship he made on live television in Mexico.”
George went on to say that “[i]n the absence of an objection on the part of Mexico, defendant as an individual may not question the validity of his seizure under the Treaty,” even if U.S. authorities knew that the defendant was a Mexican national who held only resident status in this country, which they denied.
The Supreme Court decided one other case yesterday, unanimously affirming the death sentence for a San Luis Obispo County man, Michael M. Whisenhunt, convicted of the torture-murder of his girlfriend’s 19-month-old child.
The justices in that case agreed with the defense that the trial judge failed to give complete accomplice instructions because he did not identify the defendant’s girlfriend as the accomplice to whom the instructions applied. (The defendant’s girlfriend, who was originally charged with first degree murder, pled guilty to manslaughter, was sentenced to a year in jail, and testified for the prosecution.”
The error was harmless, however, Justice Ming Chin wrote, because the instructions that were given could not be understand to apply to anyone other than the girlfriend, since there were no other possible accomplices and the girlfriend clearly was an accomplice.
The cases are People v. Salcido, 08 S.O.S. 3777, and People v. Whisenhunt, 08 S.O.S. 3759.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company