Monday, July 22, 2013
Court of Appeal Upholds Conviction for Matricide
Panel Says Failure to Give Jailhouse Informant Instruction Was Harmless Error
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Fourth District Court of Appeal has upheld a Banning man’s conviction in the 2010 murder of his mother.
Div. Two agreed with Bryan Lee Davis’ counsel that the trial judge should have given a Penal Code Sec. 1111.5 instruction regarding the testimony of an in-house informant. But the error was harmless, Justice Art McKinster explained for the court, because the witness’ testimony was corroborated by independent evidence.
The June 28 opinion was certified Friday for publication.
Police went to the mobile home that Davis shared with his mother after they received a call from a mortuary on Dec. 11, 2010. The mortuary reported that Davis had called them and asked them to pick up his mother’s body, an unusual request given that there were no police or medical personnel present.
News accounts of the case said that Davis denied having anything to do with his mother’s death, saying she had not come out of her room all day because she was ill and that he had been in and out of the house. He asked for a lawyer, police said, even though he was not in custody and had not been accused of anything up to that point.
The coroner’s office was called to investigate. A pathologist said Carol Davis, who was in her 70s, had been shot three times, and that she had been dead at least 24 hours before her death was reported.
At trial prosecutors presented testimony from the defendant’s next-door neighbor, who had begun a romantic relationship with him during the 14 months he spent in jail prior to trial. She said Davis told her he hated his mother, even though they had shared a residence for a year before her death, because she was abusive to him.
The woman denied that Davis told her he had killed his mother. But in a recorded interview, a snippet of which was played during the investigator’s testimony, she was asked if she knew why the incident with his mother occurred, and she said Davis told her it was because of the abuse.
Also testifying for the prosecution was Jeffrey Cristillo, a cellmate, who claimed that Davis admitted killing his mother with her own gun. Davis told Cristillo he had taken years of abuse, and that he had dragged the body into the bedroom and left it there for five days before calling the mortuary.
Cristillo said he did not report the conversation until a month later, after he had been released following his 45-day drunk driving term, and that he received nothing in exchange for his testimony.
Jurors found Davis guilty of first degree murder with personal use of a firearm, and he was sentenced to 50 years to life in prison under the “10-20-Life” law.
McKinster, writing for the Court of Appeal, explained that under Sec. 1111.5, which took effect Jan. 1 of last year, the trial judge had a sua sponte duty to instruct the jury that an in-custody informant’s testimony must be corroborated, but his failure to do so does not require reversal under the Watson probability standard.
Davis, he said, would likely have been convicted without Cristillo’s testimony, based on the testimony of the neighbor and the investigator, as well as the forensic evidence, including blood matching his mother’s that was found on a pair of pants taken from his bedroom.
“In view of the evidence recounted above that connects defendant to the murder of his mother, which is sufficient to establish defendant’s guilt without Cristillo’s testimony, the error in this case was not prejudicial,” McKinster wrote. “In other words, it is not reasonably probable the jury would have reached a result more favorable to defendant if the trial court had instructed the jury on the need for testimony of an in-custody informant to be corroborated before the jury could rely solely on that evidence to find defendant guilty.”
The case is People v. Davis, E056019.
Copyright 2013, Metropolitan News Company