Tuesday, July 2, 2013
S.C. Upholds Convictions in Shooting Said to Be Race-Related
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday unanimously upheld the death penalty for two men convicted of shooting and killing a young couple in Harbor City in 1998.
Police and prosecutors claimed William Tupua Satele and Daniel Nunez shot Edward Robinson, 22, of Wilmington and Renesha Ann Fuller, 21, of Inglewood, because the victims were African-American. The defendants were identified as members of the Wilmington-based West Side Wilmas gang.
Jurors found the defendants guilty of first degree murder, with a multiple-murder special circumstance. A hate-crime special circumstance was rejected, but jurors returned a death penalty verdict following trial before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Tomson T. Ong.
Satele and Nunez were arrested shortly after the shootings, for possession of an illegal assault rifle, following a traffic stop. Ballistics tests tied the rifle to the shootings, and prosecutors offered incriminating statements through the testimony of a jailhouse informant, and obtained further evidence by recording a conversation between the defendants and by interviewing Nunez, who said that while “I “don’t hate” black people, “I believe in segregation, but I mean, why would I go and shots [sic] any Black person, there is a lot of them in Wilmington.”
He also said, “I can’t stand how they get loud. . . . I just believe in segregation. I don’t like them [too] much by me, that’s what I’m saying. Why I would go all the way to Harbor City to just shoot a Black person?”
Friends and Family
Satele’s attorney called several friends and family members to testify that Satele did not use derogatory language towards blacks and had no animosity towards them. But prosecutors called a rebuttal witness to testify that he heard one of those witnesses, a Wilmas member named Lawrence Kelly, offer a black man who worked for the rebuttal witness $100 to testify that Satele had nothing against blacks.
The defendants’ appeal focused largely on claims of instructional error, including a challenge to the court’s instruction on the multiple-murder special circumstance.
Using a since-revised standard instruction, Ong told jurors that if they found that either defendant was an accomplice to the murders but was not the actual killer, or if they could not decide whether a defendant was the actual killer or an aider and abettor, the multiple-murder special-circumstance allegations could not be true as to that defendant absent a finding that the defendant acted with one of two specified mental states.
In that circumstance, Ong said, jurors either had to find that the defendant “with the intent to kill aided, abetted, counseled, commanded[,] induced, solicited, requested, or assisted any actor in the commission of the murder in the first degree” or that he “with reckless indifference to human life and as a major participant aided, abetted, counseled, commanded, induced[,] solicited[,] requested, or assisted in the commission of the crime.”
The second part of the instruction was wrong, Justice Joyce L. Kennard wrote for the high court, because it permitted the jury to find the multiple-murder special-circumstance allegations true as to a defendant who was not the actual killer without finding that the defendant acted with the intent to kill.
The error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, however, Kennard concluded.
“The evidence at trial demonstrated that murder victims Fuller and Robinson suffered their fatal injuries when they were each hit by multiple shots fired in a drive by shooting by a perpetrator using an AK‑47-type assault rifle loaded with armor-penetrating bullets,” the justice wrote. “These circumstances demonstrate that the actual perpetrator acted with the intent to kill, and did not kill accidentally or inadvertently.”
Since there were no “extenuating circumstances that might have warranted a finding by the jury that one defendant’s individual culpability was less than that of the other defendant,” Kennard continued, “the jury here must necessarily have found that any defendant that it convicted of murder as an accomplice acted with the intent to kill.”
The case was argued in the Supreme Court by court-appointed defense attorneys Janyce Keiko Imata Blair for Nunez and David H. Goodwin for Setele, and by Deputy Attorney General Carl N. Henry for the prosecution.
The case is People v. Nunez, 13 S.O.S. 3338.
Copyright 2013, Metropolitan News Company