Friday, July 16, 2010
S.C. Upholds Death Sentence in Killing of Secret Service Agent
Court Says ‘Subterfuge’ Justified Removal of Defendant’s Preferred Lawyer
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday unanimously affirmed the death sentence for the man convicted of killing the first female Secret Service agent ever to die in the line of duty.
Justice Ming Chin, writing for the high court, rejected all claims of error on behalf of Andre Alexander, including a contention that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lance Ito deprived Alexander of his right to counsel.
The defense argued that Ito lacked valid grounds for appointing new counsel for Alexander’s trial rather than naming Madelyn Kopple, who had served as advisory counsel while the defendant represented himself at the preliminary hearing and who Alexander asked to have appointed.
Julie Cross was one of only 24 female Secret Service agents at the time of her 1980 death. Age 26 at the time, she had moved to Los Angeles only days earlier, having previously worked for the San Diego Police Department.
She was the sister of San Diego Deputy District Attorney Peter Cross.
Cross and her partner were staking out a location in order to serve a counterfeiting warrant when two men came up to their unmarked vehicle, apparently planning to rob them.
The partner, Lloyd Bulman, testified at trial that Cross drew her weapon but was disarmed in a scuffle, then hit with two shotgun blasts as she lay on the ground.
Alexander was not charged with the Cross murder until 1992, after he had already been convicted of a triple-murder arising from a counterfeiting scheme. He was convicted following a 1996 trial for killing the agent and was sentenced to death by Judge Charles Horan.
Ito, who arraigned the defendant before assigning the case to Horan, rejected Kopple’s request for appointment, noting that she had applied for, but was denied, a place on the Superior Court’s panel of capital attorneys. Ito also expressed concern that Kopple had billed the county more than $50,000 for a month of services as preliminary hearing advisory counsel, including trial preparation, even though she had not been appointed as trial counsel.
Ito found that Kopple’s actions “operated as a subterfuge to allow [defendant] to retain the in custody privileges” afforded a self-represented defendant while having counsel “present [his] case.” While Alexander had asked for her appointment, the judge explained, there was no showing of any particular reason why another lawyer could not defend him, and there were specific reasons not to appoint her.
The judge appointed Penelope Watson as Alexander’s lawyer, but she was replaced by Rowan Klein after Alexander complained. The judge appointed appellate specialist Robert Gerstein to bring a motion to reconsider his decision not to appoint Kopple, but denied that motion after noting that Kopple had made some unprofessional comments about not being denied the appointment and that she had recently been denied a place on the Orange Superior Court’s capital defense panel, casting further doubt on her qualifications.
Public Defender Role
Klein then handled the case through trial and sentencing, and the State Public Defender’s Office was named to handle the appeal.
Chin said there was no abuse of discretion and no constitutional violation in not appointing Kopple as trial counsel.
“The court reasonably found the evidence assertedly showing that defendant personally preferred Kopple as his attorney, and that her appointment would create time and monetary savings, did not outweigh concerns about the integrity of the judicial process in this case,” the justice wrote, adding:
“The court correctly noted that...Kopple’s claim of special familiarity with the charges against defendant did not extend beyond this very case; it also pointed out that to give weight to the fact Kopple was familiar with the evidence and allegedly could proceed to trial more quickly and at less cost than newly appointed counsel could reward her for improperly acting as de facto lead counsel while appointed only as advisory counsel. Furthermore, the court properly found nothing in the record to indicate defendant’s trust and confidence in Kopple or her role in preparing his defense was so unique that his right to effective assistance would be affected negatively if Kopple did not represent him.”
Chin further commented that Alexander’s “supposed difficulty in trusting and cooperating with any attorney other than Kopple appears to have evaporated once the issue of her representation was not being pursued and Attorney Klein was appointed as lead counsel at defendant’s request.”
Since there was no abuse of discretion, the justice explained, the court had no need to consider whether denial of the defendant’s choice of counsel was prejudicial.
Chin also rejected a defense claim that Horan should have excluded Bulman’s testimony under Evidence Code Sec. 795, limiting the admissibility of testimony by a witness who has been hypnotized. Bulman underwent three hypnotic sessions, two shortly after the murder and one in 1987.
The justice said the statute did not apply because there was substantial evidence supporting Horan’s finding that Bulman was not successfully placed in a hypnotic state.
Chin distinguished People v. Shirley (1982) 31 Cal.3d 18, which held the use of hypnosis for the purpose of “refreshing” a witness’s memory generally was not accepted as a reliable practice in the scientific community.
“When a witness actually has not been hypnotized in any meaningful way, despite attempts to do so, the concerns expressed in Shirley regarding reliability of the witness’s testimony, namely, introduction of false memories and the tendency for the witness to develop unjustified confidence in recollections, are not at issue,” the justice wrote. “The reliability of such a witness is that of any other witness, and the ensuing testimony similarly would be subject to a credibility attack based on circumstances surrounding the witness’s recollections.”
The high court yesterday also upheld the death sentence for Morris Solomon Jr., convicted of killing six prostitutes whose bodies were found in the Sacramento area over a 10-month period in 1986 and 1987, and of sexually assaulting two other women.
Justice Carol Corrigan, writing for a unanimous court, said there was ample evidence that the four murders for which the death sentence was pronounced were premeditated.
Not only did each of the murders contain specific features indicating premeditation, there were facts common to the four killings indicating that they were part of a predetermined plan, the jurist reasoned.
“Defendant referred to prostitutes as ‘bitches, whores and tramps.’ He said he treated them ‘like that because that’s the way they wanted to be treated; and ‘that’s why they’re out there. . . . They liked that and they enjoy it.’.... That every one of defendant’s victims was a prostitute, coupled with defendant’s expressions of enmity towards prostitutes generally, strongly suggests defendant entertained a motive to sexually brutalize and then kill them.”
The cases are People v. Alexander, 10 S.O.S. 4008, and People v. Solomon, 10 S.O.S. 4074.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company