Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Supreme Court Upholds Death Sentence in Hollywood Hills Killing
Delays During Lengthy Appellate Process Did Not Deprive Defendant of Constitutional Rights, Justices Say
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday upheld the death sentence for a man who entered a Hollywood hills home and sexually assaulted and killed a housecleaner.
The justices unanimously rejected Charles McDowell Jr.’s claim that his execution more than 30 years after the murder of Paula Rodriguez would constitute cruel and unusual punishment, and that his due process and speedy trial rights had been violated by delays in his penalty retrial. Justice Ming Chin, writing for the court, said the delays were caused by McDowell’s exercise of his appellate rights and not by any impropriety on the part of the government.
Rodriguez worked every Thursday afternoon for Frank and Diane Bardsley, the next door neighbors of Lee D’Crenza, a gown designer. McDowell, who had a criminal record and was using the name Gene Holland, was working on D’Crenza’s home renovation and living in his house.
An elderly neighboring couple, Theodore and Dolores Sum, heard the housecleaner scream and went to the front door. As they got there, McDowell emerged and cut Theodore Sum’s throat with a knife, causing an 8- or 9-inch wound.
The Sums ran home and called police. When officers arrived at the Bardsley house, they found Rodriguez’s body; she had been stabbed four times, had multiple defensive knife wounds, and appeared to have been the victim of an attempted sexual assault.
Police followed a trail of blood into the D’Crenza residence, then went outside when they realized no one was home. They found McDowell in the bushes, and he eventually admitted the killing.
He was convicted of first degree murder with special circumstances of burglary and rape, the attempted rape of Rodriguez, the attempted murder of Theodore Sum, and burglary of the Bardsley home.
Prosecutors, arguing for the death penalty, presented evidence that McDowell had been previously convicted of molesting a neighbor’s 4-year-old child and had committed a number of other violent crimes and sex offenses against victims who included his sister and his then-wife. The defense case in mitigation centered on the defendant’s dysfunctional family life, which included beatings by both parents and the ongoing molestation of his young sister by his father.
His original death sentence was affirmed in a 5-2 decision of the state high court, but was overturned in 1997 by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which said the trial judge erred by not clarifying jury instructions the jury said were confusing. A penalty retrial resulted in a hung jury, but the third jury to consider the issue found in favor of the death penalty.
In addition to his arguments over trial delay, McDowell contended that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William Pounders—since retired—erred in admitting evidence regarding personal issues that arose in the victim’s family after her murder.
While the defense denounced testimony that Rodriguez’s daughter and father had become estranged as unreliable and “collateral,” arguing that if there was an estrangement, it was the father’s remarriage and not the mother’s death that was the cause, Chin said it was admissible as victim impact evidence.
“The prosecutor had advised the trial court that he had proof Maria was holding her father responsible for her mother’s death, and nothing in the family’s testimony contradicted that assertion,” the justice wrote. “Defendant was entitled to request an Evidence Code section 402 hearing to question Jose and Maria about the cause of their estrangement outside the presence of the jury. Defense counsel indicated that after Jose’s testimony he intended to ‘do a 402 as to the extent of the alienation and the reasons for it’ but counsel did not follow through and request such a hearing.”
The case is People v. McDowell, 12 S.O.S. 3053.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company