Friday, March 22, 2013
S.C Upholds Death Sentence for Man Who Killed Co-Workers
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday unanimously affirmed the first degree murder conviction and death sentence imposed on a former Richmond Housing Authority receptionist who killed his supervisor and her aide minutes after being fired.
Michael Pearson, 38 at the time of the 1995 shootings, did not dispute that he killed Ruth Lorraine Talley, 47, and Barbara Garcia, 24. But the defense argued that he was delusional and suffering from a brief psychotic break at the time and thus lacked the capacity to commit premeditated murder.
Prosecutors vigorously disputed the claim, citing Pearson’s past threats to “do a 101 California,” referring to the 1993 massacre of numerous employees in a law office located at 101 California Street in San Francisco.
Fired Over Threats
They presented evidence that after being told he was being fired for making those threats, Pearson—who had worked at the agency since 1993—walked to his supervisor’s ground-floor office and shot her. Then he walked down the hall toward Garcia’s office and shot her in another office to which she and two others had fled.
One of those workers, Janet Robinson, testified that Pearson had mentioned the 101 shooting to her the previous week. Robinson said she reported the comment—which Pearson said was a joke—to Garcia, who Robinson said was terrified.
Robinson said Pearson’s comments about the California Street shooting had made her fearful of him as well.
Robinson also testified that when she responded to the 101 remark by saying “you wouldn’t do that Michael,” Pearson promised not to shoot her. After he shot Garcia three times, Robinson told the jury, she begged for her life, to which Pearson responded “Janet, baby, I told you I wasn’t going to shoot you.”
Fear of Defendant
Chin rejected the defense contention that Robinson and other employees should not have been allowed to testify as to their fear of the defendant.
In Robinson’s case, the testimony was not objected to and the issue was not preserved for appeal, the justice explained. While similar testimony by another witness had been objected to, that evidence was relevant to motive, Chin said, because it related directly to a threat the defendant had made.
The defense was correct, Chin said, that a witness should not have been allowed to testify that she became afraid of what Pearson might do when she learned he was being fired. The testimony “was not probative of any issue of fact,” the justice said, but its admission was harmless given the overwhelming evidence of premeditation, he said.
The justice went on to reject the claim that Dr. Paul Berg, a psychologist who examined Pearson two days after the shootings and testified for the prosecution, was biased and that the defense should have been allowed to impeach Berg with evidence that he was involved in Medi-Cal fraud in the 1980s.
Contra Costa Superior Court Judge Richard Flier did not abuse his discretion in excluding the impeachment evidence, Chin said. Apart from the charges being dated, he noted, Berg had been found actually innocent in the case.
The jurist dismissed as speculative the defense claim that the finding of actual innocence ignored “the reality of fraud” and was a payoff for Berg’s work as a prosecution expert as earlier case. Also speculative, Chin said, was the defense contention that Berg had a pro-prosecution bias stemming from efforts by defense attorneys in past cases to question him about the alleged fraud.
The case is People v. Pearson, 13 S.O.S. 1418.
Copyright 2013, Metropolitan News Company