Friday, March 19, 2010
S.C. Upholds Death Sentence in Couple’s Shooting
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court has unanimously upheld the death sentence of a man who kidnapped a San Bernardino County couple after stealing their horses, and then shot them in the back of the head as they lay face down in the desert.
The court on Wednesday rejected Richard C. Gamache’s appeal of his convictions and sentence for the 1992 murder of Lee Williams and the attempted murder of Williams’ wife.
Peggy Williams survived two gunshots to the head and, following lights in the distance after her attackers left, made her way to a truck stop where she called 911.
Gamache—then 18 years old and recently discharged from the U.S. Army—broke into the Williamses’ home with his wife, Tammy, another man, Andre Ramnanan, and a minor as part of a plan to acquire horses and go to Washington to camp in the wilderness.
The group ransacked the Williamses’ house while holding the pair at gunpoint and stole the couple’s horses and vehicles, including a car, a truck, a mobile home and a horse trailer. They then forced the Williamses, who were barefoot in their bathrobes, into the motorhome, and after dropping the minor off made the Williamses sign bills of sale for the vehicles.
The Gamaches and Ramnanan drove the Williams into the desert, where they forced the couple to lie face down a short distance from the road.
Gamache shot Lee Williams first, telling him, “Thank you, and have a nice day.” He then shot Peggy Williams, but—questioning whether she was dead—shined a light in her eyes and checked her pulse before shooting a second time.
Peggy Williams gave a description of her attackers and license plate numbers for the stolen vehicles, and police found the motorhome in the parking lot of a nearby café within the hour.
Finding the Williamses’ stolen property inside, police arrested Richard and Tammy Gamache when they returned to the motor home in the Williamses’ truck from dropping the horses off with acquaintances. Ramnanan was arrested later that day with the Williamses’ car.
At a joint trial before San Bernardino Superior Court Judge James A. Edwards, the prosecution relied on Peggy Williams’ testimony, a 40-minute tape in which the Gamaches and Ramnanan jointly confessed to details of the crimes, and statements Richard Gamache made to officers while in custody.
He told an officer booking and fingerprinting him that “I should have used a .45,” and when asked how killing the Williamses felt, said, “I almost got an erection.”
A jury convicted all three of first degree murder with robbery, burglary and kidnapping special circumstances, as well as attempted murder and other crimes. Ramnanan and Tammy Gamache received life in prison without parole, but Richard Gamache was sentenced to death.
On appeal, Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar rejected Gamache’s claims of prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective assistance of counsel, and said Edwards did not err in denying a motion to recuse the entire San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office from the case on the basis that Peggy Williams had worked for the office for 10 years as a typist.
Noting that the office has over 500 employees and separate internal divisions that allowed it to set up ethical screens, the jurist said Gamache failed to show that Williams’ relationship to the prosecutors influenced their decision to seek the death penalty.
She also said the trial court did not abuse its discretion in requiring Gamache to wear leg shackles and an electronic security belt during trial after he was found with a hacksaw in his cell, and after letters to his mother detailing an escape plan and requesting her assistance were intercepted. At trial, Gamache conceded his mother had threatened to blow up a courthouse.
Werdegar further rejected Gamache’s allegations of a Miranda violation and that a videotape which was never admitted as evidence, but which court personnel accidentally delivered to the jury room, prejudiced the jury.
She also opined that neither California’s death penalty nor the state’s decision to apply it to 18-year-olds is unconstitutional.
However, the justice said Edwards did err in determining Gamache’s sentence with respect to counts of robbery and burglary, and gun enhancements, and remanded for recalculation.
The case is People v. Gamache, 10 S.O.S. 1413.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company