Tuesday, November 3, 2009
C.A. Upholds Conviction in Retaliatory Gang Murder
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district yesterday affirmed the conviction of an East Coast Crips gang member in what it said was the retaliatory murder of a member of the Grape Street Crips.
Div. Eight rejected an argument that inadmissible testimonial hearsay evidence was used to convict Cedric Johnson of the murder of Mario “Gus” Proctor and the attempted murder of Rashad Harris.
Johnson and his co-defendant, Daniel Colvin—who is appealing separately—were involved in the shooting of Proctor and Harris while the victims were sitting on the front porch of a house in the Jordan Downs housing project in South Los Angeles in January of last year, Justice Tricia Bigelow explained in an unpublished opinion for the court.
The shooting came about 12 hours after several Grape Street members were shot at a party on East Florence Avenue and about an hour after an East Coast member was shot in apparent retaliation.
Los Angeles Police Department officials explained at the time that one of the Florence Ave. victims, Brandon “BL” Bullard, was a high-ranking member of Grape Street, who had survived an earlier shooting that set off a series of more than two dozen shootings of members of one gang by the other.
Colvin and Johnson were placed in separate jail cells where their conversations and phone calls were secretly recorded, with both of them saying they had been in the car involved in the drive-by shooting of Proctor and Harris. Johnson was convicted on both counts and sentenced to 50 years to life in prison by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ronald V. Skyers.
Bigelow said the admission of Colvin’s recorded statements as evidence against Johnson did not violate the Confrontation Clause as interpreted in Crawford v. Washington (2004) 541 U.S. 36.
The justice explained that the statements were not “testimonial,” as the term is used in Crawford, because they were not “characteristic of testimony at a preliminary hearing, or at a grand jury proceeding, or at a trial” and were not “given in response to police interrogation designed to develop evidence for use at a future criminal proceeding.”
The defendants, she added, “had no reasonable expectation or intention that they were preparing testimonial evidence against themselves.”
Bigelow went on to say that even if the statements were hearsay, their introduction was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, because Johnson’s own statements “unmistakably” established that he was involved in the Jordan Downs shooting.
The justice also rejected the contention that Johnson’s trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to object to a number of prosecutorial comments about the impact of gang crimes on society. Many of the comments were permissible, Bigelow explained, and to the extent that some may have been objectionable, the lack of such objection could have been consistent with a rational defense strategy of accepting the notion that the crimes were terrible but arguing that the defendant could not be convicted solely because he was a gang member.
In any event, the jurist added, it was unlikely that the verdict would have been different had the prosecutor not made the comments.
Attorneys on appeal were Kathy Moreno, by appointment, for the defendant and Deputy Attorneys General Steven D. Matthews and Herbert S. Tetef for the prosecution.
The case is People v. Johnson, B212011.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company