Friday, July 3, 2009
S.C. Upholds Death Sentence in Mass Killing at Silicon Valley Firm
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday unanimously upheld the death sentence for a former Silicon Valley computer technician convicted of killing seven people and attempting to kill four others in 1988 at the company from which he was fired for stalking a co-worker.
Chief Justice Ronald M. George, writing for the court, said that Richard Wade Farley was properly convicted of all seven murders. One employee of Electromagnetic Systems Laboratory was shot and killed in the Sunnyvale company’s parking lot, while other victims were shot inside the building.
Jurors voted to impose the death penalty in a penalty phase that was conducted after they found Farley guilty of seven counts of first degree murder, four counts of attempted first degree murder, and one count each of assault with a firearm and burglary. As special circumstances, the jury found that Farley committed multiple murders and committed six of the murders during the course of a burglary.
The burglary charge was based on the theory that Farley entered the building with the intent to assault Laura Black and/or destroy ESL property. Black and others testified that Farley had been pursuing Black for years, despite her constant demands that she be left alone, and that her only social interaction with Farley had been going to lunch with him and one of his friends.
At Farley’s 1991 trial, Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Joseph Biafore instructed jurors, over defense objection, that under the felony murder rule, if Biafore burglarized the building, he could be convicted of first degree murder for each of the killings committed inside. Farley did not dispute having shot the victims, but denied that he intended to hurt Black or destroy property.
Witnesses said Farley became obsessed with Black in 1984, stalking and harassing her, sending her hundreds of letters and even secretly obtaining a key to her home, despite her repeated complaints. When the company tried to stop the harassment, Farley threatened to harm other employees.
He was fired in 1986 but continued to pursue Black, with whom he claimed to have a relationship, according to the testimony. Black obtained a temporary restraining order against Farley in 1988, but on the day before a court hearing to make the order permanent, he arrived at ESL with shotguns, a rifle with a scope, revolvers, pistols, a smoke bomb, a foot-long buck knife and sheath, and more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition, as well as wooden matches.
He surrendered to police hours later, after officers promised to give him a sandwich and a soft drink. Tests showed that he had not been drinking or using drugs.
He wrote to Black from jail:
“When I go to the gas chamber, I’ll smile for the cameras and you’ll know that you’ll have won in the end.”
He also wrote a friend that he was “glad Laura’s ok” and that he hoped “she understands if I’d really wanted to hurt her — she wouldn’t be here today.”
On appeal, the defense challenged the felony-murder instructions, but George said the trial judge was correct.
He rejected the argument that the first degree felony-murder rule does not apply to a burglary with intent to damage or destroy property, because at the time of the crime, that was a wobbler rather than a straight felony. George said that the felony-murder rule applies when the underlying crime is a wobbler that has been charged as a felony.
The chief justice also rejected the argument that first degree felony murder convictions could not be based on burglary with the intent to commit assault as the target offense, because if the entry was with the intent to shoot Black, it merged with the six homicides committed inside ESL’s facility.
George distinguished People v. Wilson (1969) 1 Cal.3d 431, which applied the merger doctrine to a killing in the course of a burglary, where the defendant entered with the intent to assault the homicide victim.
Wilson is bad law and will not be followed in the future, the chief justice said. The decision is inconsistent with Penal Code Sec. 189, under which any murder committed during the commission of a burglary, or the attempt to commit a burglary, is murder in the first degree, George wrote.
George acknowledged that the court cannot overrule Wilson retroactively. But the court has never applied Wilson to cases where the defendant entered with the intent to assault one victim and killed another, the chief justice wrote, so the jury instructions in Farley’s case were correct.
The case is People v. Farley, 09 S.O.S. 4081.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company