Friday, November 19, 2010
Supreme Court Upholds Death Sentence in Apple Valley Church Slaying
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday unanimously affirmed the death sentence for a man convicted in the 1991 stabbing death of an Apple Valley church worker.
Chief Justice Ronald M. George, writing for the court, said there was sufficient evidence that Richard Don Foster killed Gail Johnson, 53, in the course of a robbery and burglary at the High Desert Church of Religious Science
Prosecutors said Foster was linked to the crime by DNA testing and several pieces of physical and circumstantial evidence. Johnson’s vehicle was found in the parking lot of a business that defendant visited on the day of the crimes, her wallet was retrieved from a mine shaft in which the defendant previously had disposed of other items, and a pair of jeans that were spattered with blood that may have been the victim’s and which fit the defendant were found in the shaft.
Foster, who has spent all but about 2.5 years of his adult life behind bars, admitted having met the victim when he visited the church two days before the killing. He also acknowledged having dumped various items in the mine shaft, but denied that any of them were the property of the victim, or that he had anything to do with her death.
Prosecutors, however, said Foster had a pattern of visiting places where women might be working alone and targeting them when they were. He had served prison terms for robbing and raping a receptionist at a business in Boise, Idaho and for robbing and assaulting an office worker in Apple Valley under similar circumstances.
Jurors found Foster guilty of first degree murder with special circumstances of robbery and burglary. In the penalty phase, the defense presented witnesses who testified that Foster had a dysfunctional childhood, characterized by harsh discipline at home and at an institution in which he was placed, and that his father may have molested Foster’s sister.
Prosecutors, however, painted a picture of Foster as an extremely dangerous man, citing the two prior convictions along with the testimony of a witness who saw Foster threaten her mother with a gun at her Boise home 19 years before the killing, and of another woman who said Foster placed obscene phone calls to her and threatened to harm her child after she terminated the calls.
Jurors returned a death penalty verdict, and San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Stanley William Hodge imposed the death sentence.
On appeal, the defense argued that even if the defendant killed Johnson, the special circumstances and the felony-murder theory were unproven because the prosecution did not rebut the inference that he entered the church seeking solace—he testified that he had learned about the Church of Religious Science from a fellow inmate in Idaho—and subsequently decided to steal from the vulnerable victim.
“A rational trier of fact could conclude...that defendant entered the church with the intent to commit larceny, based upon (1) the circumstances of the crime — within a short time after entering the building, defendant stole the victim’s belongings — and (2) defendant’s pattern of entering offices and violently robbing solitary women. This same evidence supports a finding that the killing was committed in the course of a burglary, and thus supports a finding of felony murder based upon the commission of a burglary, and the special circumstance of murder committed in the course of a burglary.... The fact that the evidence also may support other scenarios does not render insufficient the evidence supporting the verdict.”
The case is People v. Foster, 10 S.O.S. 6453.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company