Friday, August 23, 2013
S.C. Upholds Death Sentence in Orange County Rape-Murder
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday affirmed the death sentence for a former Long Beach man who raped and strangled a 55-year-old woman during a 1986 burglary of her Los Alamitos residence.
The decision regarding Robert Mark Edwards, who was in his 20s at the time of the crime, was largely unanimous, although two justices dissented in part.
Edwards was arrested in 1993 and later convicted of a similar murder in Hawaii. That case, prosecutors said, provided the final bits of evidence needed to charge Edwards with the murder of Marjorie E. Deeble, a real estate agent whose daughter had dated the defendant.
An initial trial resulted in Edwards being found guilty of first degree murder—based on allegations that the victim was tortured and that the murder occurred during the commission of a burglary—and in special-circumstance findings of torture and burglary, but the jury deadlocked in the penalty phase.
A second jury returned a verdict favoring the death penalty, which was imposed by Orange Superior Court Judge John Ryan.
Edwards did not deny either the California or the Hawaii murder, but said he could not remember committing them. Defense attorneys argued that his remorse, history of addictions and of efforts to fight them, efforts to help other prison inmates with substance abuse problems, and background of having been abused by a father who questioned whether the defendant was really his son were reasons to spare him the death penalty.
Prosecutors emphasized the horrific nature of the two murders—evidence of the Hawaii killing was admitted in the guilt phase to establish intent, identity, and common scheme, as well as in the penalty phase—and the impact on the victims’ survivors, including her daughter, who said she felt guilty over having brought the defendant into her family.
Both Deeble and the Hawaiian woman, Muriel E. Delbecq, were beaten and mutilated before they were strangled, and both had been sexually assaulted with cans of hairstyling mousse, according to the testimony. Bloody handprints and footprints and other evidence helped Hawaii authorities convict Edwards, who had lived nearby.
Edwards was sentenced to six consecutive life terms in Hawaii.
Among the arguments that the defense raised was that Edwards’ Confrontation Clause right were violated when a pathologist who worked under contract to Orange County was allowed to testify, as an expert, with respect to findings based on the autopsy, which was performed by his partner. The partner had retired before trial and did not testify.
Justice Marvin Baxter, writing for the court, said it was unnecessary to resolve the issue because there was no prejudice “under any standard” since the testifying pathologist agreed with his former colleague’s opinions, and because the cause of death was not at issue.
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye and Justices Ming Chin, Kathryn M. Werdegar and Joyce L. Kennard joined in the opinion.
Justice Carol Corrigan, in a separate opinion joined by Justice Goodwin Liu, argued that the pathologist’s testimony did violate the Confrontation Clause, and that jurors might not have found the torture special circumstance to be true if the testimony had been excluded.
The case is People v. Edwards, 13 S.O.S. 4340.
Copyright 2013, Metropolitan News Company