Friday, June 6, 2014
S.C. Upholds Death Sentence in Robbery-Murder of Gambler
Justices Also Affirm Death Penalty for Man Who Killed Three at Hospital in Orange County
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday upheld the death sentence for a man who robbed and murdered a woman he followed from the Hollywood Park Casino in Inglewood more than 16 years ago.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James R. Brandlin sentenced Donald Ray Debose Jr. to death in July 1999 for the 1997 attack on Dannie Kim, a 32-year-old Washington state woman. Jurors found Debose guilty of first degree murder with special circumstances of arson and robbery.
Prosecutors said the victim was followed out of the casino after gambling and was found later that morning in the trunk of her burning Chrysler LeBaron in front of an Inglewood elementary school.
She was shot and burned and died five days later from her injuries.
Debose also was convicted of the attempted murder and second-degree robbery of another woman, who survived being shot in the head after being followed home to Rancho Cucamonga from the same casino in another 1997 attack.
Security cameras from the casino recorded the movements of Debose and two other men, Carl Higgins and Anthony Flagg, with video footage showing the three appearing to monitor Kim’s movements. The three were tried together, with Debose being sentenced to death Higgins and Flagg each being sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, in accord with the jury’s verdicts.
Jurors initially reported that they were deadlocked as to whether Debose should receive the death sentence. Brandlin gave them the rest of the day off and told them to return the next day to continue deliberations.
Mistrial Not Required
On appeal, the defense argued that the judge should have declared a mistrial when the jurors said they couldn’t reach a verdict. But retired Justice Joyce L. Kennard, sitting on assignment, said the judge properly exercised his discretion under Penal Code §1140, which provides for a mistrial if the court determines that the proper period of time for deliberation has expired and “there is no reasonable probability” of reaching a unanimous verdict.
Brandlin’s actions in bringing jurors back for more deliberations were not coercive or suggestive as to what verdict jurors should reach, the justice said.
“Moreover, here the jury had only been deliberating for a day and a half as to three defendants, after a trial that had lasted two months,” Kennard wrote. “We have previously upheld the denial of a mistrial in similar circumstances.”
The judge was not required to inquire as to how badly split the jury was, Kennard added.
Kennard also rejected the argument that Debose’s death sentence was disproportionate to the life prison terms to which Higgins and Flagg were sentenced.
The justice wrote:
“Here, defendant’s death sentence is proportionate to his individual involvement and culpability. Coupled with the circumstances of the crimes, the evidence strongly points to defendant as the shooter of Kim; furthermore, less than a week later, defendant, acting alone, viciously attacked, robbed and shot a second victim … in the head at point-blank range. It moreover is reasonable to infer that because defendant was the only one involved in both incidents, he planned and orchestrated them.”
Special Circumstance Reversed
The court did reverse the arson special circumstance finding, noting that the applicable statute limits the special circumstance to arson of an inhabited structure or property. But that does not affect the validity of the death sentence, the court held, because the robbery special circumstance alone was sufficient.
The high court yesterday also affirmed the death sentence for Dung Dinh Ahn Trinh for the murders of three employees of West Anaheim Hospital in 1999. Trinh admitted that he shot the victims, as well as a fourth person who survived, because the hospital gave poor care to his mother, who died a few months after being released from West Anaheim.
She died of cardiac arrest hours before the shootings.
Trinh testified that he had no regrets or remorse for what he had done, but his counsel urged jurors to return a life-without-parole verdict. The defense put on evidence that Trinh had been completely devoted to his mother and her care, and that the transition from life in their native Vietnam had been difficult.
Jurors in the first penalty phase deadlocked 10-2 for LWOP. A second trial was held, as to penalty only, where jurors deadlocked 11-1 for the death penalty.
The defense moved to block a third trial, but Judge John Ryan permitted it, and jurors voted unanimously for the death penalty.
Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar, writing for a unanimous court, said the decision to allow a third trial was neither an abuse of discretion nor a constitutional violation. Having heard the evidence at the first two trials, it was reasonable for the judge to believe that a third trial might result in a unanimous verdict, the justice said.
The high court also rejected an argument that prosecutors exercised racial bias in striking a man who would have been the only Vietnamese-American juror from the panel. Werdegar said there were legitimate reasons for the peremptory challenge, including the fact that the man was middle-aged but had never married and had no children.
Justice Goodwin Liu, while joining Werdegar’s opinion, wrote separately to criticize Ryan for comments suggesting that the excused venire member seemed unusually disinterested in the fate of his fellow Vietnamese-American, contrasting his reaction with those of “that entire community” to the trial of a Taiwanese-American woman accused of killing her husband’s Chinese mistress.
Liu said it was clear that those views “influenced the trial court’s assessment of the credibility of the prosecutor’s explanation that [the venire member’s] unresponsive views on the death penalty were suspect.” But he agreed that the trial court’s ruling was correct, because there was no showing that the prosecutor’s objection to the man was based on ethnic stereotypes.
The cases are People v. Debose, 14 S.O.S. 2835, and People v. Trinh, 14 S.O.S. 2821.
Copyright 2014, Metropolitan News Company