Friday, June 14, 2013
S.C. Upholds Death Sentence in Murder of Valley Teenager
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday affirmed the death sentence for a man convicted of orchestrating the murder of his former girlfriend in an alley in the San Fernando Valley in 1996.
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, writing for a unanimous court, said there were no errors by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Meredith Taylor, since retired, that would justify overturning the death sentence for Juan Manuel Lopez in the killing of Melinda “Mindy” Carmody.
Prosecutors contended that Lopez kidnapped and assaulted Carmody after she ended their relationship. While in jail awaiting trial on those charges, they alleged, he laid out a plan to kill her in order to prevent her from testifying.
Carmody was 16. Prosecutors charged Ricardo Lopez, Juan Lopez’s then-17-year-old brother, as the actual killer. They presented testimony from friends of the victim that she was lured to the alley where she met her death; having been told that a friend was going to be “jumped into” a gang there.
Ricardo Lopez, then 17, emptied a gun into the girl as she tried to run away, then fired a final fatal round into her head, the witnesses said. He later confessed and led police to the murder weapon, which he had hidden in a heater in the living room of his house on Roscoe Boulevard.
Jurors found both defendants guilty of murder in the first degree, with a witness-murder special circumstance. Taylor sentenced the older brother to death and the younger brother—ineligible for the death penalty due to his age—to life imprisonment without possibility of parole.
On appeal, the defense contended that the prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney John Nantroup, made improper arguments, including that the death sentence should be imposed in order to protect the victim’s friends who had testified for the prosecution.
But the chief justice said there was nothing improper about the argument.
“We reject defendant’s claim that these remarks constituted an emotional plea to the jury to assume personal responsibility for the safety of the prosecution’s witnesses by returning a death verdict,” she explained. “Rather, the point of the prosecutor’s argument was that a system in which witnesses are killed or threatened with death cannot function and, therefore, the death penalty is required to deter people like defendant from killing witnesses and compromising the integrity of the system….Moreover, to the extent the argument was a comment on defendant’s future dangerousness, such argument was permissible.”
The high court also rejected the claim that Taylor should not have admitted evidence that “187”—the number of the Penal Code section proscribing murder—showed up on the victim’s pager before she died. While there was no direct evidence as to who sent it, Cantil-Sakauye explained, there was circumstantial evidence that Juan Lopez either sent it or told somebody to do so, and the evidence was relevant to prove that the murder was planned and premeditated, rather than a spontaneous act on the part of Ricardo Lopez.
The case is People v. Lopez, 13 S.O.S. 2989.
Copyright 2013, Metropolitan News Company