Tuesday, December 18, 2012
S.C. Affirms Death Sentence in West Covina Murder
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court affirmed the death sentence for a man convicted of the 1991 murder of West Covina community activist and engineering consultant Raymond G. Shield.
The justices unanimously agreed that there was sufficient evidence for jurors to find that Paul Sodoa Watkins was attempting to rob the 61-year old Shield when he was fatally shot, and that Watkins was subject to the death sentence even if he was telling the truth when he testified that his gun went off accidentally during the botched robbery attempt.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert Martinez sentenced Watkins, 21 at the time of the crime, in 1992. His cousin and co-defendant, Lucien Martin, 18 when the murder occurred, was sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of parole.
The two were also convicted of the attempted robbery of Shield and of robbing four other people in three separate incidents—two just before the murder and one right after.
Shield was killed in the parking lot of the West Covina Holiday Inn. Watkins testified that he and Martin armed themselves with a nine-millimeter semi-automatic pistol, stole a pickup truck at gunpoint from two men in the parking lot of a Riverside County convenience mart, robbed another man at the Greyhound station in Claremont, and at about 5 a.m., spotted Shield at the Holiday Inn.
Shield had just dropped off his wife, daughter, and two grandchildren, who were planning to catch an airport shuttle bus, en route to a vacation in Hawaii, where Shield and his wife had a second home. Watkins said he and Martin raised the truck’s hood to make it appear they were having car trouble, and that when Shield came over to help, they panicked and the gun went off.
“I didn’t try to shoot the dude. I didn’t try to rob the dude,” he said at trial, according to a newspaper account. “It was not supposed to be like this. Everything was all messed up.”
After leaving the Holiday Inn, the men robbed a market in Gardena. A detective in that city apprehended them after the robbery in a door-to-door search with a police dog.
The defendants’ fingerprints were found throughout the stolen truck, a gold chain taken in the Riverside County crime was found on Martin, and a pack of cigarettes that may have been taken in the Gardena robbery was found on Watkins. Other forensic evidence linked the men to the crimes.
In the penalty phase, the prosecution presented evidence of other criminal conduct by Watkins, including his involvement in a pair of racially charged jail fights while awaiting trial.
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, writing for the high court, said there was sufficient evidence of intent to support the conviction for attempted robbery, the murder conviction based on a felony-murder theory, and the felony-murder special circumstance.
The chief justice summarized the evidence:
“The evidence showed that defendant and his cousin acquired a gun, discussed committing robberies and then started committing them. After stealing a driver’s truck and the passenger’s property, they selected a victim at the bus station. When they learned he was traveling they observed that he ‘must have some money,’ of which they relieved him at gunpoint. Within minutes they drove to the Holiday Inn, where they saw a man unloading suitcases from a car, apparently traveling like their last victim. Defendant pulled up next to Mr. Shield’s car under the hotel’s covered entrance driveway, then got out of the stolen truck and opened the hood, pretending to have car trouble. Based on this record, we agree with the People that the evidence was sufficient to support the conclusion by reasonable jurors that defendant had focused on and intended to rob Mr. Shield or his family. “
She went on to explain that even if the gun discharged accidentally, there was no constitutional bar to imposition of the death penalty:
“We have long recognized that imposition of a death sentence premised on felony murder, in circumstances in which, as here, the defendant is the actual killer, is indeed constitutional....Because…international law does not prohibit a sentence of death rendered in accordance with state and federal constitutional and statutory requirements, defendant’s related international law claim also fails.”
Watkins also raised a claim of misconduct, based on the prosecutor having presented asked him on cross-examination why he had been seen “laughing and carrying on” when outside the jury’s presence.
The prosecutor argued that the question was proper in response to the defendant’s testimony that he was truly remorseful over the shooting. The defense argued that Watkins was merely trying to relieve tension, and Martinez—invoking Evidence Code Sec. 352—told jurors to disregard the question.
The chief justice concluded that the prosecutor asked the question in good faith, and that there was no prejudice in any event.
The case, People v. Watkins, 12 S.O.S. 6490, was argued in the high court by Deputy State Public Defender Nina Rivkind and by Deputy Attorney General Stephanie A. Miyoshi.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company