Tuesday, February 7, 2012
Supreme Court Upholds Death Sentence in Killing of Deputy Sheriff
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday upheld the death sentence for a gang member convicted in the 1995 shooting death of a Los Angeles sheriff’s deputy.
With Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye writing the unanimous opinion, the court rejected claims of prejudicial error on the part of Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert Perry at the trial of Freddie Fuiava, a member of the Young Crowd.
Fuiava was convicted of the first degree murder of Deputy Sheriff Stephen Blair and the attempted murder of his partner, Robert Lyons. The jury found as special circumstances that the defendant knowingly murdered a peace officer who was in the performance of his duties and that he committed the murder in order to avoid arrest.
Blair was driving near Ham Memorial Park in Lynwood , according to testimony, when he noticed Fuiava and another man who had apparently spotted the deputies and tossed what appeared to be a gun into a yard. Blair got out of his vehicle and was shot in the chest, returning fire despite his wounds.
Fuiava claimed that he shot Blair in self-defense. He contended that the deputy was a member of the Vikings, a group of Lynwood deputies who worke Viking tattoos which the defense claimed operated as a street gang itself, terrorizing alleged gang members without cause.
Present and former Lynwood deputies have said that Vikings is simply a nickname for those assigned to that particular station, and have denied allegations of brutality and racism. But several deputies were named as defendants in a civil rights action based on events that occurred in 1990 and 1991, which the county eventually settled.
At Fuiava’s trial, the defense attempted to introduce evidence from that case, as well as other evidence of misconduct by Lynwood-area deputies, claiming it was relevant to the self-defense claim. Perry sustained the prosecution’s objection, and the chief justice agreed yesterday that the evidence was inadmissible.
“We agree with the trial court that the connection between the excluded evidence and the issues at this trial was unduly tenuous,” Cantil-Sakuye wrote.
Perry, she noted, allowed the defense to present evidence of alleged misconduct by Blair, and of specific acts of alleged misconduct by deputies against Fuiava and two of his associates, but excluded testimony about the lawsuit or about misconduct by other deputies against other gang members.
The chief justice also explained that evidence about the lawsuit could not be offered to prove the truth of the allegations, because of the hearsay rule.
“In sum, the trial court’s ruling was not beyond the bounds of reason,” Cantil-Sakauye said. “It was reasonable for the trial court to find that any probative value in admitting the lawsuit evidence (proffered with the hope of supporting an inference that because other deputies had engaged in unlawful activities unrelated to defendant — or the lawsuit so alleged — it was more likely Blair acted unlawfully in the shooting incident) was minimal and would have been substantially outweighed by the risk of jury confusion and undue consumption of time.”
Cantil-Sakauye also concluded that there was no error in admitting evidence, in the guilt phase, that the defendant had previously been convicted of armed assault and that he was on parole at the time of the shooting. The evidence was relevant, the jurist explained, because it tended to prove the prosecution theory that Fuiava shot Blair because he was afraid of being sent back to prison for possesing a firearm while on parole.
The trial judge did err, the chief justice wrote, in failing to instruct the jury that a deputy sheriff’s testimony that Fuiava told him he had shot two rival gang members required independent corroboration. The error was harmless, however, the chief justice said.
“In light of the circumstances of the shooting of Deputy Blair, defendant’s guilt phase testimony placing the blame for what happened upon the victim, his penalty phase testimony expressing apparent unwillingness to accept responsibility for the crimes of which the jury had convicted him, and the other evidence of defendant’s undeterred history of violence involving additional shootings, including his pleas to two, we cannot say there is a reasonable possibility the jury would have reached a different verdict if it had not considered Deputy Kaono’s testimony regarding defendant’s uncorroborated confessions to two other, ultimately nondescript, shootings.”
The appeal was argued by Michael Satris, by appointment, for the defendant and Deputy Attorney General Thomas C. Hsieh for the prosecution.
The high court yesterday also upheld the death sentence imposed by a Riverside Superior Court judge on Sonny Enraca for a double murder that occurred in Mira Loma in 1994.
Witnesses said Enraca shot and killed Dedrick Gobert, 22, an aspiring actor from Inglewood who had appeared in the movie “Boyz in the ‘Hood,” and Ignacio Hernandez, 19, and shot and paralyzed Gobert’s girlfriend, Jenny Hoyn, in a gang-related argument following an illegal street race.
The defense argued on appeal that Enraca, who confessed to a detective while being booked, had invoked his right to counsel while being questioned by another detective earlier. But Justice Carol Corrigan, writing for a unanimous court, said the defendant’s decision to confess to the second detective, which Enraca said he made because the second detective was more respectful than the first and because he felt that the truth was going to come out regardless, was entirely voluntary and was given despite the second detective’s warning that he could not talk to Enraca because he had asked for a lawyer.
The cases are People v. Fuiava, 12 S.O.S. 548, and People v. Enraca, 12 S.O.S. 587.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company