Friday, June 3, 2011
State Supreme Court Revives Conviction of Man Who Stole Victim’s Car, Then Ran Her Over
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday reinstated a Riverside County man’s convictions of first degree murder and robbery in the death of a woman who was run over with her own car after the defendant stole it.
The justices unanimously agreed that the willful use of force against the victim of theft satisfies the “force or fear” element of robbery, regardless of whether the defendant intended to strike the victim or instill fear. The court thus concluded that the Fourth District Court of Appeal’s Div. Two erred in reversing the convictions of Paul D. Anderson.
Anderson, of Alta Loma, is currently serving life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for the murder of Pamela Thompson. According to trial testimony, Anderson stole Thompson’s car from the Riverside apartment complex where she lived, late on the night of Nov. 7, 2003, then struck her after she went looking for it and saw him as he tried to make his escape.
Thompson was on the phone with her mother when she was struck. Before the line went dead, she said, “Oh, my God. Here comes my car real fast.”
Thompson never regained consciousness after being struck and died three days later. Anderson, who had been smoking methamphetamine before he went looking for a car to steal, claimed the impact was unintended and that he swerved to avoid Thompson, but did not see her until it was too late.
The Court of Appeal reversed. It held that Placer Superior Court Judge Richard J. Couzens, who tried the case on assignment to the Riverside Superior Court, erred in failing to instruct the jury sua sponte that if Anderson struck the victim by accident, there was no robbery and thus no murder under the felony-murder rule.
But Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar, sitting on assignment, said such an instruction would have been incorrect.
“[N]o authority cited to us provides positive support for defendant’s argument,” she said. “Nor do we find anything in the law, or the facts of this case, to convince us robbery contains a heretofore unidentified element of intent to cause the victim to experience force or fear.”
Anderson, she concluded, “committed the requisite forcible act”—driving into Thompson—“with the requisite intent,” to steal her car. “It was robbery even if, as he claims, he did not intend to strike Pamela, but did so accidentally,” Werdegar wrote.
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye concurred in the opinion, as did Justices Marvin Baxter, Ming Chin, and Carol Corrigan, and Court of Appeal Justice Fred Woods of this district’s Div. Seven, one of several jurists called in recently to sit in place of retired Justice Carlos Moreno.
Justice Joyce L. Kennard concurred separately.
Kennard reasoned that the Court of Appeal may have been correct in concluding that robbery requires a general intent to use force to take property from the victim’s possession, and that the failure to give a sua sponte instruction to that effect constituted error.
But any such error would have been harmless, the concurring justice said, because Thompson’s testimony that he only swerved, and did not attempt to stop, once he saw Thompson established the requisite intent.
“Accordingly, if a rational jury that accepted defendant’s version of the facts was instructed that the general intent required for assault is an element of robbery (an instruction that the Court of Appeal viewed as being required here), that jury would conclude that defendant committed the felony of robbery as well as a robbery murder when he ran over and killed car owner Thompson in order to get away in the car he had stolen from her,” Kennard wrote.
The case is People v. Anderson, 11 S.O.S. 2875.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company