Friday, June 1, 2012
Supreme Court Affirms Death Sentence in Oakland Shooting
Prosecutor’s Factual Errors in Argument Held ‘Minor’ and Harmless by Unanimous Court
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Factual errors by a prosecutor arguing the capital phase of a murder conviction, including the statement that prisoners serving life sentences without possibility of parole are eligible for conjugal visits, do not require reversal of the sentence, the state Supreme Court unanimously ruled.
The justices upheld the conviction and death sentence of Matthew Souza, who was 18 years of age when Regina Watchman, Dewayne Arnold, and Leslie K. Trudell were killed by automatic weapons fire at Watchman’s Oakland residence. Souza and his brother, Michael Souza, who was 19 at the time, were both convicted of first degree murder.
Prosecutors sought the death penalty for both defendants, but jurors, while finding both defendants guilty, found special circumstances only as to the younger brother.
Witnesses said the brothers planned the shootings, in which two others were injured, as retaliation after their mother was forcibly removed from a house party.
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, writing for the high court, rejected all claims of error, including the contention that the prosecutor deprived the defendant of a fair trial by injecting false statements into his argument in the penalty phase.
Among those, the defense argued, where that the victims were shot at close range, even though there were no powder burns; that the defendant would benefit from privileges from life in prison, such as family and conjugal visits, although prisoners sentenced to life without the possibility of parole are not entitled to overnight or conjugal visits with family; that one of the survivors of the shooting died of a heroin overdose two years after the shooting and that his drug use was attributable to the trauma he experienced after the shooting, when no evidence established that James died from a drug overdose or that any possible use of drugs was related to trauma from the shooting.
The defense also argued that the prosecutor had improperly impugned the defendant’s lawyer, falsely attributing statements to him that were actually made by his brother’s counsel.
The chief justice expressed concern about the statements, but said they could not have made any difference in the outcome.
“[T]he misstated facts related to relatively minor points, and were not likely to sway the jurors when considered in the context of the substantial evidence presented at trial establishing that defendant intentionally killed three unarmed persons,” Cantil-Sakauye wrote.
The case is People v. Souza, 12 S.O.S. 2631.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company