Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, July 5, 2012


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Robber Guilty of Murder in Death of His Accomplice—C.A.

Justices Cite ‘Provocative Acts’ Doctrine in Affirming Conviction




The Court of Appeal for this district has affirmed the first degree murder conviction of a perpetrator of a home invasion, holding the defendant responsible for the killing of his accomplice by one of the victims.

The court Monday cited the “provocative acts” doctrine as legal support for the conviction of James Baker-Riley, sentenced to 35 years to life in prison for the murder of Kelsea Alvarez, and said there was sufficient evidence that Baker-Riley’s conduct provoked the fatal shooting.

A San Luis Obispo Superior Court jury found Baker-Riley guilty of first degree murder, first degree residential burglary, and two counts of first degree residential robbery in connection with the 2009 episode in Los Osos.

According to testimony, Baker-Riley and Alvarez entered the residence of Peter Davis, planning to steal money and marijuana. Baker-Riley waived a gun in Davis’ face and threatened to kill Davis and his friend Dylan Baumann.

He proceeded to taunt the victims, eating some of their take-out Thai food. He laughed after he forced Davis to open a fortune cookie that read, “There will be many upcoming opportunities. Take advantage of them.”

‘Pulp Fiction’

Baker-Riley said he was going to take advantage of an opportunity, and forced the victims to empty their pockets. He also asked Davis if he had seen the 1994 movie, “Pulp Fiction,” which he had not.

In a footnote to the Court of Appeal opinion, Justice Kenneth Yegan said the movie reference was never explained to the jury. But the court took judicial notice of the plot, in which a victim was taunted and terrorized before being killed.

Noticing cannabis trying on a string in a bedroom, he forced Davis into the bedroom. Davis said he begged for his life, and both victims testified they believed the defendant intended to kill them.

Ordered by Baker-Riley to sit on the bed, Davis grabbed a gun that he kept under the mattress, stood up, and started firing at Baker-Riley. The defendant attempted to fire back, but his gun jammed.

Baker-Riley was not hit, but one shot hit Alvarez and wounded him fatally.

Another Defendant

The San Luis Obispo Tribune reported in April that another man, Ryan Johnson, was convicted of first degree murder and other offenses, based on his having helped plan the fatal robbery, even though he was elsewhere when it occurred. Johnson’s motion for a new trial was denied, and he was sentenced to 26 years to life in prison.

Yegan said Judge Barry LaBarbera correctly instructed the jury on provocative-act murder. The doctrine, as explained in People v. Gilbert (1965) 63 Cal.2d 690, holds:

“When the defendant or his accomplice, with a conscious disregard for life, intentionally commits an act that is likely to cause death, and his victim or a police officer kills in reasonable response to such act, the defendant is guilty of murder.”

Argument Rejected

LaBarbera, Yegan explained, was correct in instructing that provocative-act murder is of the first degree when it occurs during the commission of robbery and the defendant “intended to commit robbery when he did the provocative act.” The justice rejected the argument that provocative-act murder is only of the first degree if there was a premeditated intent to kill at the time of the provocative act.

Yegan went on to say that there was sufficient evidence of provocative acts beyond “the acts inherent in the crime of robbery.”

He cited Davis’ dramatic entry into the house, and pointing a gun at Baumann’s head from no more than four feet away, his repeated threats to shoot, and his terrorizing the victims and toying with them for an extended period of time.

“When Davis begged for his life in the back room and appellant remained silent, Davis reasonably thought he was going to die,” the jurist wrote. “Appellant’s conduct was egregiously provocative. We conclude that it easily falls within the purview of the provocative act murder doctrine.”

The case is People v. Baker-Riley, 12 S.O.S. 3301.


Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company