Friday, April 16, 2010
Death Sentence Upheld in Rape, Murder of Woman, 80
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday unanimously affirmed the death sentence imposed for the felony murder of an 80-year-old San Diego woman who apparently died of fright during a sexual assault.
Writing for the high court, Justice Ming W. Chin rejected Brandon Taylor’s multiple claims of error on automatic appeal from his conviction for the 1995 death of Rosa Mae Dixon.
According to the prosecution’s evidence, Dixon and her sister were sitting and conversing on a sofa in her living room when they looked up and saw Taylor standing in front of them. Dixon confronted Taylor, who then grabbed the women and forced them down the hall to a bedroom.
A neighbor heard one of the women call for help and looked through a window to investigate. He saw Taylor hunched over Dixon and left to summon the police.
Meanwhile, Taylor raped Dixon and took about $65 from her purse, which was sitting open on a table. At this point, Dixon was ashen and no longer breathing or moving.
Taylor fled out the back door of the house and was apprehended in the back yard. Officers found Dixon lying on the floor of the bedroom where Taylor had left her, with her nightgown bunched up around her waist. There was blood on her leg and underneath her pelvic area, and she was unresponsive and not breathing.
Her pulse was restored through cardiopulmonary resuscitation and emergency heart medications, but she suffered seizures and kidney failure after arriving at a local hospital. The following evening, after being declared brain dead, she was removed from life support without having ever regained consciousness.
At trial before San Diego Superior Court Judge Frederic L. Link, Dixon’s sister and neighbor identified Taylor as the man they had seen attack Dixon. The results of DNA testing of blood and sperm collected from Dixon and from Taylor at the time of his arrest also identified him as the perpetrator.
Medical experts for the prosecution testified that Dixon died from the extreme fear, pain, and stress the sexual assault caused, but acknowledged on cross-examination that either vascular or heart disease was a contributing cause of death, and that a younger woman would have survived the attack.
A jury voted to convict Taylor of murder, rape, oral copulation and burglary, but deadlocked on the penalty. Link then declared a mistrial and impaneled a second jury, which recommended a sentence of death.
On appeal, Taylor contended that Link abused his discretion by refusing to allow a substitution of defense counsel until after the competency hearing, but Chin disagreed.
Taylor requested substitution of his appointed counsel several times before trial began. Link initially denied Taylor’s requests, but allowed a substitution of counsel after conducting a mental competency hearing and finding Taylor able to stand trial.
Chin reasoned that Link erred in finding the question of Taylor’s competency to stand trial had to be resolved before the substitution of counsel request could be addressed, but that this did not compel reversal since new counsel was eventually appointed.
Taylor also argued that Link erred in allowing the prosecutor to use evidence that had been developed in preparation for and derived from the competency hearing to cross-examine a defense expert on his diagnosis, but Chin explained that Taylor had placed his mental status at issue during the guilt phase so the Fifth Amendment did not preclude the prosecution from impeaching the defense expert with the evidence on which he had based his opinion.
The justice also rejected Taylor’s claim that the prosecution had violated the Fifth Amendment by commenting on his decision not to testify at trial during closing argument when she asked:
“Who took this stand and gave you a reasonable explanation [as to Taylor’s presence in the victim’s home]?”
Chin posited that the question was a proper comment on the evidence, not an implicit suggestion that Taylor should have, or could have, provided a nonfelonious reason for his initial entry into the victim’s home.
“The Fifth Amendment does not prohibit the prosecution from commenting on the state of the evidence presented at trial, or on the defense’s failure to introduce material evidence or to call witnesses other than the defendant,” he said.
Chin further brushed off Taylor’s argument that the trial court had violated his Eighth Amendment rights by allowing a second jury to decide penalty after the first jury deadlocked, even though the second jury had not heard all of the guilt phase evidence.
“Given that the double jeopardy clause permits retrial following juror deadlock under such circumstances, we fail to see how subjecting defendant to retrial of the penalty phase in this case could offend the constitutional proscription against cruel and unusual punishment,” he concluded.
The case is People v. Taylor, 10 S.O.S. 2053.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company