Friday, October 22, 2010
High Court Upholds Death Sentence in 1995 Vacaville Murder
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The state Supreme Court yesterday upheld a Vacaville man’s death sentence for raping a woman and then murdering her at the request of her estranged husband.
The justices unanimously affirmed the death sentence imposed by Solano Superior Court Judge R. Michael Smith on Robert Bacon, now 47, for the October 1995 killing of 40-year-old Deborah Sammons.
Prosecutors charged Bacon and Charles Sammons with first degree murder, with the special circumstance of lying in wait. Bacon was charged with the additional special circumstances of forcible rape, forcible sodomy, and previous conviction of murder.
The trials were severed, and Sammons testified at Bacon’s trial, which was held first. After Bacon was convicted and all special circumstances found true, Sammons changed his plea to no contest, the special circumstance was dismissed, and he was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
Sammons said he had told Bacon, who was helping him paint his house, that he wanted his wife “out of the picture” and that Bacon had offered to do it. Sammons said he had thought Bacon was joking, but that after he invited his estranged wife—who had allegedly told her boyfriend she intended to divorce Sammons—to the house several days later, Bacon went into her bedroom and beat her to death.
After Bacon threatened him with a gun, Sammons said, the two men put her body in the trunk of a car and left it on an embankment near Grizzly Island.
Police who interviewed Sammons at his house asked him to accompany them to the station. When he put his shoes on, an officer noticed they were bloodstained and seized them.
Officers obtained a search warrant the next day and went through the house, finding blood in numerous places. Sammons then implicated Bacon.
Bacon initially denied ever meeting the victim, but after being told that semen found in her vagina had been proven to be his by DNA testing, claimed that he’d had consensual sex with her, then gone back to painting the house. Bacon, who had been released from prison three months earlier after serving a sentence for killing a man in Arizona who Bacon said had kicked his dog, accused Sammons of killing his wife after Bacon left the room.
Prosecutors said a wound on the victim’s face was the same shape as a tire iron found in Bacon’s apartment. A defense pathologist said a gun owned by the husband was the more likely cause of the wound.
Justice Joyce L. Kennard, writing for the high court, rejected the defense argument that Smith abused his discretion by refusing a special instruction on accomplice testimony, which was largely taken from a concurring opinion by Kennard in an earlier case
Kennard noted yesterday that Smith gave the standard instruction, CALCRIM No. 318, with the addition of the following language:
“You should consider the extent to which his testimony may have been influenced by the receipt of or expectation of any benefits in return for his testimony. You should also consider anything that has a tendency in reason to prove or disprove the truthfulness of his testimony, including but not limited to any interest he may have in the outcome of the defendant’s trial.”
That instruction was “correct and adequate,” Kennard wrote, so the judge was not required to give the “lengthier and more detailed expression of the law concerning accomplice testimony” proposed by the defense.
The justice also rejected the contention that Bacon’s conviction for second degree murder in Arizona did not establish the prior-murder special circumstance because Arizona’s definition of second degree murder does not include all of the elements of California murder.
Kennard noted that Bacon, while claiming that the prior killing was an emotional reaction to the attack on his canine, admitted as part of a plea agreement that he took the victim’s wallet before stabbing him. Under the felony-murder rule, that would constitute first degree murder in California, Kennard said, and thus proved the special circumstance and made it unnecessary for the court to determine whether the two states substantively differ on their definitions of second degree murder.
The jurist also swept aside a claim that the judge erred in allowing prosecutors to introduce penalty phase evidence that the defendant was found in possession of a firearm while on parole. Kennard said the trial jurist reasonably concluded that “possession of the weapon involved the implied threat of force or violence at the time” and was thus admissible as an aggravating factor in support of the death penalty.
The defense she noted, was able to argue, and did argue, that Bacon had no intention of using the gun, which was found under Bacon’s pillow during a parole search, for an improper purpose.
The case is People v. Bacon, 10 S.O.S. 5963.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company