Friday, May 28, 2010
S.C. Says Jury Experiment in Death Penalty Case Was Proper
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday upheld the death sentence imposed after a 1993 trial, rejecting the original trial judge’s conclusion that jurors conducted an improper experiment during deliberations.
Justice Carol Corrigan, writing for the court, said jurors were properly acting on the evidence before them when they conducted their own tests in order to determine the trajectory at which a convicted killer fired at his victim.
The high court upheld Scott Forrest Collins’ convictions and sentence on charges of first degree murder, robbery, and kidnapping for robbery, with special circumstances of kidnapping-murder and robbery-murder. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Howard Schwab, since retired, condemned Collins to die for the murder of Fred Rose, 41, a construction superintendent.
Rose’s body was found in North Hollywood several hours after he failed to return from lunch to his jobsite in the Antelope Valley. Prosecutors said Collins, a multiple convicted felon who had been released on parole a month earlier, abducted Rose, used his ATM card to withdraw money from a bank, and then shot him in the back of the head and dumped the body.
Collins and several others were arrested when the vehicle in which they were riding—Rose’s 1983 Oldsmobile Cutlass—was involved in a crash in Kern County the day after the murder. Collins denied knowing anything about the car theft or the murder, but eventually told police that he had found the car—with keys, Rose’s wallet, and a card with his bank name and ATM PIN number written down on it inside—and taken it because he needed transportation to Bakersfield.
After the jury returned its verdict in Collins’ 1993 trial, Judge Leon Kaplan—who is now retired—granted the defendant’s motion for a new penalty trial based on juror misconduct. Kaplan said the defendant’s right to be tried solely on the evidence had been violated because jurors had used a protractor and string during deliberations to show the trajectory of the fatal bullet.
The judge also faulted a juror for using his home computer to make a diagram of the crime. The juror involved was a war veteran who said the diagram confirmed his belief that the victim was shot execution-style, which the prosecution argued as one of the reasons why the death penalty should be imposed.
After granting the motion, Kaplan recused himself from any further proceedings, saying he could not continue because of what he characterized as “personal attacks on this court which have been ongoing and relentless” by then-Deputy District Attorney Lea Purwin D’Agostino. The prosecutor had accused him of making erroneous rulings motivated by an anti-death penalty bias.
The district attorney appealed the order granting a new trial, and the Court of Appeal reversed, sending the case back to the trial court for further proceedings. The case was reassigned to Schwab, who denied the automatic motion to modify the verdict and imposed sentence.
According to a newspaper account of the sentencing, Schwab called the killing “a senseless, vicious murder,” saying Rose “was robbed and killed in a totally cold-blooded manner . . . exactly one month to the day that Mr. Collins was released from prison.’’
Corrigan, writing for the high court, cited a series of cases dating back a century and explained that a jury room experiment is only improper if it involves matters extrinsic to the evidence presented in the courtroom.
“Within the range discussed by Dr. Sherry [the pathologist who conducted the autopsy] and the variety of possible physical positions, jurors conducted a demonstration to evaluate alternatives that could have produced the downward trajectory of Rose’s wound,” the jurist wrote. “The jurors directed Juror C.C. to assume various positions. They specifically examined the prosecution’s theory that Rose was ‘executed’ while on his knees, and also considered whether Rose was shot while standing with his head tilted back. Their evaluation critically considered the evidence presented. It did not invade a new field.”
Corrigan also said there was nothing improper about a juror making a diagram to confirm what his own experiences told him about the evidence.
The justice reasoned:
“...Juror G.B’s computer use was part of his individual contemplation of the evidence after the matter had been submitted to the jury.... The jury’s demonstration in the deliberation room was simply a ‘more critical examination’ of the evidence admitted....In neither situation did jurors receive extrinsic evidence. As a result, there was no basis for the trial court’s conclusion that jurors committed misconduct, and thus no basis for granting of a new penalty phase trial.”
The case was argued in the Supreme Court by Deputy State Public Defender Kent Barkhurst of San Francisco for the defense and Deputy Attorney General Theresa A. Patterson of Los Angeles for the prosecution.
The case is People v. Collins, 10 S.O.S. 2850.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company