Monday, December 27, 2010
Court of Appeal Upholds Local Pastor’s Convictions for Assault
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
This district’s Court of Appeal has upheld a local pastor’s assault convictions for beating a man who blocked his car in a parking lot, and for pulling a revolver on another man who declined to buy the pastor’s motorcycle.
Div. One Wednesday in an unpublished opinion rejected Melvin Brown’s argument that the trial court violated his right to due process when it consolidated trials on the charges.
Brown, a pastor at the Second Community Baptist Church, was convicted of various assault charges and sentenced to five years in prison following the two incidents in late 2008 and early 2009.
In the first, Brown attacked Herbert Cerna and struck him in the face with a metal wheelchair footrest in October 2008 after Cerna allegedly blocked Brown’s car with his van in a parking lot outside of a Compton dialysis center. Brown admitted punching Cerna in the head, and said the altercation arose because he had an emergency and needed to be with his mother, who was leaving the dialysis center with his sister.
He denied, however, striking Cerna with the footrest.
Three months later, Brown pulled a revolver on Benjamin Munnerlyn and allegedly told him “I will put a cap in your ass” if he called 911 after Munnerlyn attempted to return a motorcycle he had planned to buy from Brown. Munnerlyn said he decided not to purchase the motorcycle because he could not obtain a mechanic’s evaluation without the keys, which Brown declined to hand over until Munnerlyn paid the full price.
Brown denied pointing the gun at Munnerlyn or his associates, or withholding the motorcycle keys. He also maintained that he had sold another motorcycle to Munnerlyn, but that neither motorcycle had been paid for in full.
Prosecutors charged Brown with two counts of assault with a firearm and with carrying a loaded, unregistered firearm in the motorcycle incident, and with assault by means likely to produce great bodily injury and assault with a deadly weapon in the dialysis center incident. They then moved to consolidate all of the charges, and Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Sotelo granted the request.
On appeal, Brown contended that the trial court abused its discretion in granting the motion and in denying his motion to sever the charges. He also claimed that the consolidation rendered his trial grossly unfair, violating his rights to due process, but the Court of Appeal rejected both arguments in an opinion by Justice Victoria Gerrard Chaney.
Noting that the evidence would not be cross-admissible if each set of offenses was tried separately, the justice wrote that Sotelo did not abuse his discretion in joining the cases because there was no significant difference in the strength of the two cases, so the totality of evidence was not likely to alter the outcome as to any of the charges. She also noted that the joinder did not convert the matter into a capital case.
Chaney similarly rebuffed Brown’s assertion of gross unfairness. Even though the evidence was not cross-admissible, she said, prosecutors did not improperly urge the jury to link or consider both incidents together and the evidence supporting the dialysis center charges was not stronger than the evidence supporting the motorcycle incident charges, as Brown contended, but weaker.
“Each set of charges was supported by simple and distinct evidence,” she wrote.
The justice agreed with Brown that a prosecutor committed misconduct when she told the jury that a witness to the motorcycle incident who was absent from trial would have said “the same thing” as two other witnesses, but she said Brown suffered no prejudice from the error.
Presiding Justice Robert M. Mallano and Justice Frances Rothschild joined Chaney in her opinion.
The case is People v. Brown, B219828.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company