Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Court Upholds Death Sentence in Killing of Jeweler
Justices Say Defendant Willingly Waived Trial by Jury
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday unanimously affirmed the death sentence for a North San Diego County man convicted in the 1993 slaying of a jeweler during a robbery.
La Twon R. Weaver waived his right to trial by jury, before the guilt phase and again before the penalty phase, and allowed San Diego Superior Court Judge J. Morgan Lester to determine his fate.
Weaver was charged in the murder of Michael Broome, owner of a jewelry store located in a Vista shopping mall.
The defense sought to put the blame for the crime on a friend of the defendant, Byron Summersville. It presented evidence that Summersville was a violent criminal and that a car seen leaving the crime scene was his.
Weaver, who was identified by two employees and a customer as the sole perpetrator of the crime and by other witnesses who said they saw him in the mall parking lot before or after the shooting took place, told a psychiatrist that Summersville talked him into robbing the store and gave him the gun.
He said he thought Summersville was with him when he walked into the store, but that he turned and realized his friend wasn’t there. The gun, he said, went off accidentally, and Broome was hit by the bullet.
That statement was introduced in the penalty phase.
Lester found the defendant guilty of first degree murder with burglary and robbery special circumstances. Following the penalty phase, he cited the “monstrous weight” of the evidence in aggravation, including the testimony of the eyewitnesses, two of whom said they had been suffering emotionally and gone into counseling after witnessing the shooting and fearing they would be shot themselves, and that of the victim’s widow.
Broome, a father of two young children, was buried on what would have been his 35th birthday.
The judge found, as mitigating circumstances, that Weaver, the son of a Baptist minister, was intoxicated at the time of the crime and that Summersville largely planned the robbery. But he concluded Weaver acted alone and without hesitation and deliberately cocked his weapon and shot at point-blank range “an unarmed, defenseless human, who [was] in the process of cooperating with your robbery demands and ha[d] his hands raised in complete submission.”
On appeal, the defense argued that Lester should not have allowed the jury waiver, which the defendant offered after the judge denied his challenge to the way juries are selected in San Diego County. The defense contended that Weaver did not understand the significance of his express waiver of the right to appeal a number of pretrial rulings, was not advised of his right to participate in jury selection, and did not expressly waive the right to have a jury decide on the robbery and burglary special circumstances.
Chin, however, said the waiver of the right to appeal pretrial rulings was insignificant for several reasons. Many of those rulings related to jury issues, and thus became moot when the jury right was waived; the waiver may have been ineffective because of the state Constitution’s provision mandating an appeal in every capital case; and the defendant offered no showing that the waiver prevented him from raising any issue that he wanted to raise on appeal.
Nothing in California law requires a specific waiver of the defendant’s right to participate in jury selection, the justice went on to say, and federal cases cited by the defendant did not convince the court to reconsider the state rule.
As for the special circumstances, Chin said the record showed that the defendant’s waiver covered those allegations, and noted that Weaver reaffirmed after the judge found him guilty that he had waived jury trial as to both the underlying charges and the special circumstances, and that wanted to waive in the penalty phase as well.
It would have made no sense to waive as to the charges but not the special circumstances, Chin added, since there was no plausible argument that the person who killed Broome did so other than in the course of a robbery and a burglary.
Chin also rejected the defense contention that the judge abused his discretion, based on the “sheer volume” of victim-impact evidence admitted and its “emotionally charged tenor and substance.”
“The victim-impact testimony consisted of the testimony of three of the victim’s family members and the three surviving victims present during the crime, one of whom testified by way of stipulation,” the jurist wrote. “Although some of the testimony was emotionally wrenching, it was not so extreme as to divert the experienced trial judge’s attention from his proper role.”
The unanimous court included Presiding Court of Appeal Justice Norman Epstein of this district’s Div. Four, sitting in place of Justice Goodwin Liu. No reason was given for Liu’s recusal, but the court-appointed defense attorney on appeal, Elisabeth Semel, was a colleague of Liu when he taught at UC Berkeley School of Law.
The case is People v. Weaver, 12 S.O.S. 1636.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company