Friday, February 25, 2011
S.C. Upholds Death Sentence for Moreno Valley Man
Evidence That Defendant’s Nickname Was ‘Point Blank’ Was Relevant, Justices Say
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday unanimously affirmed the death sentence for a Moreno Valley man who was 18 years old when he killed a 17-year-old girl, apparently because she refused to have sex with him.
Justice Ming Chin rejected all claims of error by Riverside Superior Court Judge Christian Thierbach in upholding the sentence he imposed on Philian E. Lee.
A Riverside Superior Court jury found Lee guilty of first degree murder with an attempted rape special circumstance in 1999, three years after Mele Kekaula was shot seven times in and around the head. Two friends of Lee, Devin Bates and Jarrod Gordon, testified they were drinking with Lee and the girl, who became extremely intoxicated, before Lee drew a .22-caliber handgun and shot her repeatedly.
Gordon testified that the victim, with whom he had previously been sexually intimate, had paged him earlier in the evening, that he and the others had gone to her house, and that she greeted them outside before riding off with him. Lee took a gun from his back pocket and shot the girl, according to the testimony, after Lee began taking off her clothes and she tried to push him away and told him to get off her.
After the killing, the men said, Lee composed and sang a rap song as they drove away from the remote lookout east of Moreno Valley, then tossed her clothes out the car window.
Gordon and Bates were friends from school, and Gordon said he and Lee were good friends. Bates said he had not met Lee before, and that Lee introduced himself as “Point Blank.”
When they drove away after the shooting, according to the testimony, Lee was “proud, almost gloating” and said:
“They’re never gonna really have to make a rap about my name being Point Blank.”
1Gordon said he asked Lee why he shot the girl, and he said he did it “because she wouldn’t give it up.”
Lee did not testify, but his lawyer presented expert testimony suggesting that the victim was not so drunk as to be incapable of consenting to sex. The defense also presented evidence that Bates and Gordon had criminal records, in Gordon’s case for sexual assault, among other felonies.
Lee told the presentence investigator that Gordon was the shooter. But prosecutor Michele Levine, now a Riverside Superior Court judge, told a reporter at the time of sentencing that the claim could not be reconciled with the physical evidence.
Chin, writing yesterday for the high court, rejected the defense contention that evidence of Lee’s nickname was irrelevant and prejudicial.
Thierbach had ruled that the testimony was admissible to show that Lee was the person to whom Bates was introduced hours before the killing and to prove that the defendant shot Mele with intent to kill.
Chin agreed with defense counsel that, as to the issue of identity, the evidence was cumulative and had little probative value. But as to intent, the justice said, it “was relevant and extremely probative.”
“Reference to defendant’s nickname, including the fact that he had introduced himself to Devin as “Point Blank” hours before he killed Mele, was necessary for the jury to understand the significance of defendant’s statements after he shot Mele and their tendency to support the prosecution’s theory that defendant intended to kill Mele in a particular way to prove he deserved his nickname.”
The evidence was not so prejudicial as to outweigh its probative value, the justice went on to say, particularly since the trial judge gave the defense’s requested instruction that jurors not consider the evidence ““to prove that defendant is a person of bad character, has a disposition to commit crimes, or has ever acted in a manner consistent with this nickname.”
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company