Friday, February 24, 2012
S.C. Upholds Death Sentence in Killing of Compton Officers
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday unanimously affirmed the death sentence for a man convicted of killing two Compton police officers.
The decision came 19 years and one day after Officers James Wayne MacDonald, 23, and Kevin Michael Burrell, 29, were gunned down following a routine traffic stop. Witnesses identified Regis Deon Thomas as the killer, saying he continued to fire at the officers’ heads as they lay on the ground.
They were the first Compton officers ever killed in the line of duty.
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said the defense made no showing of any errors on the part of Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Edward Ferns, who tried the case, and that if there were any, they did not affect the outcome.
MacDonald was killed on his last shift as a Compton reserve officer. He had accepted a position with the San Jose Police Dept., nearer his parents’ Santa Rosa home.
Burrell first worked with Compton police when he was a 15-year-old Explorer Scout, and became a full-fledged officer after attending California State University, Dominguez Hills, where he was a three-year starter on the basketball team.
In addition to killing the two officers, jurors found Thomas guilty of the lesser offense of second degree murder in the January 1992 slaying of Carlos Adkins, who was visiting an apartment at the Nickerson Gardens housing project in Los Angeles.
The defense contended on appeal that the Adkins murder charge should have been tried separately from the alleged killing of the two officers. But the charges were properly joined because they were all murders, the chief justice said, and the denial of the defense motion to sever was not an abuse of discretion.
Cantil-Sakauye explained that severance would have been required if there was an undue risk that evidence of one crime would inflame the jury to find the defendant guilty of the others. That was not the case, she said, because all of the crimes were callous, and the evidence of all three was strong.
Nor was the defendant unduly disadvantaged as a result of not being able to testify about the Adkins killing without being asked about the shooting of the officers, the chief justice said.
The defense claimed that Adkins would testify that he was acting, or believed he was acting, in self-defense when Adkins was shot. But counsel failed to proffer the testimony Thomas would have given, Cantil-Sakauye wrote, and did not explain why such testimony would have harmed his defense to the other charges.
In any event, she added, the fact that the jury only found the defendant guilty of second degree murder in the Adkins slaying proved that joinder was not prejudicial.
Misconduct Claim Rejected
The chief justice also rejected a claim of prosecutorial misconduct, based on questions asked of penalty phase witnesses about how the defendant earned his money and comments about his purchase of a truck for $18,000 shortly before the shooting of the police officers..
Defense counsel argued that the prosecutor was insinuating that the defendant committed other crimes, such as drug dealing. But Cantil-Sakauye noted that the prosecution never referred to any such crimes.
To the extent the prosecutor argued that the defendant’s having spent a great deal of money on a truck—rather than spend it on his wife and children—proved he was not a good family man, that was fair refutation of his argument in mitigation, the chief justice concluded.
The case was argued in the Supreme Court by Deputy State Public Defender Mary K. McComb and Deputy Attorney General Douglas Wilson.
The case is People v. Thomas, 12 S.O.S. 840.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company