Tuesday, May 6, 2014
S.C. Upholds Death Sentence, Rejects Racial Bias Claim
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The state Supreme Court yesterday upheld the death sentence for a man who shot and killed a liquor store clerk in 1997 in Compton.
In a 6-1 ruling, the high court rejected claims by Calvin Dion Chism that a Los Angeles prosecutor improperly excluded two black prospective jurors because of their race. Chism is black, and the murder victim, Richard Moon, was white.
At Chism’s first trial, he was found guilty of first degree murder with an attempted robbery special circumstance, but jurors deadlocked in the penalty phase, 10-2 in favor of the death sentence. Two co-defendants were also convicted, and were sentenced to life in prison without parole.
The two holdout jurors were black women. At the penalty phase retrial, the defense sought a mistrial on the ground that two African Americans, one male and one female, were the subjects of peremptory challenges due to their race.
The prosecutor responded that the black venireman’s life experience did not suggest strong decision-making skills, and that the black women, despite a long work history, had always held clerical positions indicating that she had not been subjected to high-stress situations. A black former corrections officer was permitted to serve on the jury, and another African American was selected as an alternate juror.
Justice Ming W. Chin, writing for the court, said substantial evidence supported Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Richard Romero’s conclusion that the prosecution had race-neutral reasons for striking the two. A comparative analysis of their voir dire responses, and those of eight non-black jurors whom the defense claimed also lacked supervisorial experience or a history of dealing with high-stress situations did not undermine the trial judge’s ruling, Chin said.
Each of the eight Chin said, had some form of experience that could have made them desirable as jurors from a prosecution perspective, without regard to race.
Justice Goodwin H. Liu dissented as to the death sentence.
“Today’s opinion marks the second time in 12 months that this court has rejected a claim of improper discrimination in jury selection despite indications in the record that the strike of a black female juror was substantially motivated by discriminatory intent,” Liu wrote. He called the court’s record of rejecting claims of race bias in the exercise of peremptory challenges “extraordinary.”
Attorneys on appeal were Deputy Attorney General Zee Rodriguez for the prosecution and Mark Lenenberg of Simi Valley, by appointment, for the defendant.
The court decided one other death penalty case yesterday, affirming the death sentences for two Santa Clara County men convicted of a torture-murder committed when they were teenagers. Stephen Edward Hajek and Loi Tan Vo were convicted of the 1991 murder of Su Hung, the grandmother of a high school student who had exchanged words with a friend of Hajek’s days earlier at a San Jose ice cream shop.
Hajeck and Vo killed the woman by garroting her with a rope and slashing her throat.
Witnesses said the two men tied up Hung’s 10-year-old granddaughter, and later kidnapped other family members who arrived at the home as the events unfolded. The state Supreme Court concluded there was substantial evidence to uphold the convictions.
Defense lawyers during trial maintained that Hajeck was mentally ill at the time of the crimes, but the Supreme Court rejected that argument. Vo’s lawyer told the jury that he was there only because he was a friend of Hajeck and had no idea what he was planning.
The high court unanimously upheld the convictions. It held that a lying-in-wait special circumstance was unsupported by substantial evidence—rejecting the claim that because they were waiting for the victim’s granddaughter, then decided to kill the victim before the granddaughter arrived, a form of transferred intent applied.
The court upheld the death sentences, however, on the ground that a torture special circumstance applied and was sufficient to support the jury’s penalty-phase verdict.
Retired Justice Joyce L. Kennard, sitting by assignment, dissented in part, saying the death sentence against Vo should be overturned because the evidence was “insufficient to support the jury’s finding that he shared Hajek’s intent to cause extreme pain and suffering,” so that the torture special circumstance did not apply.
The cases are People v. Chism, 14 S.O.S. 2243 and People v. Hajek, 14 S.O.S. 2201.
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