Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Page 1


High Court Upholds Death Sentence in Killing of Deputy Sheriff




The California Supreme Court yesterday unanimously upheld the death sentence for a Ravendale man convicted of killing a Lassen County sheriff’s deputy and attempting to kill three others.

“The few nonprejudicial individual errors we have found are no more compelling when considered in combination, and defendant does not explain how these errors would reinforce a compelling theory of prejudice or undermine the prosecution’s case against him,” Justice Marvin Baxter wrote for the court.

Dennis Ervine, who won two medals for bravery in Vietnam, was sentenced to death for murdering Deputy Sheriff Larry Griffith by shooting him with a 30-30 Winchester rifle on March 2, 1995.

Griffith, Commander William Freitas, and Deputy Sheriffs Wayne Aldridge and Henry Mahan went to the Ervine home after the defendant’s wife, Julie Ervine, said he had threatened her with a handgun and called from a neighbor’s house.

Ervine escaped from the house and called from a neighbor’s home. The surviving deputies said Ervine fired from an upstairs bedroom of his house, killing Griffith and precipitating a standoff that lasted for hours before Ervine surrendered.

He was convicted in 1996 in Sacramento Superior Court, where the trial was moved, of murder with special circumstances of murdering a peace officer in the line of duty, committing murder to avoid arrest and lying in wait. Jurors returned a death penalty verdict after a penalty phase in which prosecutors emphasized the impact of the killing on Lassen County and its Sheriff’s Department, while the defense presented more than 20 friends and relatives of the defendant as mitigation witnesses.

Military Service

Defense counsel also urged the jury to spare Ervine because of his military service. Prosecutors acknowledged the medals but also presented evidence that Ervine had been reprimanded for punching a military police officer and had been discharged for having an uncooperative attitude.

Baxter yesterday rejected his argument that Sacramento Superior Court Judge James T. Ford, who was assigned to try the case, should not have allowed Lassen County Sheriff Ronald Jarrell to testify—as part of the penalty phase—to the impact of Griffith’s murder on the department.

Jarrell, who had hired Griffith in 1984, explained that the small, tight-knit department was devastated by the murder. The dispatcher who handled the call had become distraught, one of the surviving deputies had quit, saying he wanted to see his children grow up; and others had needed counseling, he told the jury.

The incident also caused deputies to question their own abilities to handle deadly situations, he said.

Impact Testimony

Victim impact testimony, Baxter said, is not limited to friends and relatives of the victim. Jarrell’s testimony, in particular, “was neither inflammatory nor emotionally charged, and consisted of short, matter-of-fact descriptions of the effect of the crime,” the justice explained. 

Baxter also rejected the argument that the case should be dismissed because Sacramento County deputies read confidential legal materials they discovered in the course of a search of Ervine’s cell.

The justice agreed that Ervine’s civil rights appear to have been violated, and said he may have a civil remedy. But it would be improper to sanction the prosecution in the absence of any showing that the deputies were working with prosecutors or had shared confidential information with them.

The prosecutors, Baxter noted, told the judge they had receiving nothing as a result of the search and did not know it had occurred until the defense told them, and the defense declined their offer to testify.

The case is People v. Ervine, 09 S.O.S.6931.


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