Friday, August 1, 2014
Juror’s Talk With Pastor Leads to S.C.’s Death Penalty Reversal
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday threw out the death sentence in a multiple murder case, where a juror spoke with his pastor regarding religion and the death penalty, prior to casting a vote in favor of the death penalty.
A jury convicted Paul Loyde Hensley of offenses committed in 1992, including the first degree murder and robbery of his father-in-law Larry Shockley, the burglary of Shockley’s home, and the theft of his car; the first degree murder and robbery of Gregory Renouf—who Hensley arranged to have sex with in a warehouse but murdered instead—and the burglary of Renouf’s home; the attempted murder and robbery of Stacy Copeland, a prostitute; the robbery of Scott Rooker at an ice-cream shop; and escape from county jail.
Hensley was found four days after his escape.
As to both murders, a jury found true special-circumstance allegations of robbery-murder and multiple-murder. The jury also found that defendant used a firearm in the commission of every offense except the burglary and escape charges, and that he inflicted great bodily injury during the Copeland crimes, which resulted in the victim’s paralysis from the waist down.
That jury was unable to reach a penalty verdict, and the trial court declared a mistrial.
At the penalty retrial, after the jury was polled but before the verdict was recorded, San Joaquin Superior Court Judge Frank A. Grande expressed concern, based on comments by the jury foreperson, that there may have been deliberations outside the jury room. Under private questioning, the foreperson explained that the comments that concerned the judge had been made to her by a single juror, identified in the opinion as Y.M.
The judge then questioned Y.M., who acknowledged that he had spoken to his pastor about the morality of the death penalty, but said he had not discussed the facts of the case with him. Grande denied the defense motion for mistrial, concluding there was no misconduct and no prejudice, and subsequently denied a new trial following a hearing at which the pastor testified that he did not tell Y.M. how to vote, but did tell him that the Bible required a killer to take responsibility for his acts.
Grande denied the motion, but the high court said it should have been granted and that a new penalty trial is required.
The trial court committed fundamental error by denying a retrial, Corrigan said, explaining:
“If we find a substantial likelihood that a juror was actually biased, we must set aside the verdict, no matter how convinced we might be that an unbiased jury would have reached the same verdict, because a biased adjudicator is one of the few structural trial defects that compel reversal without application of a harmless error standard. … Regardless of how weighty the evidence may be, a defendant is entitled to 12, not 11, impartial jurors.”
The attorney general conceded that Y.M. committed juror misconduct, Corrigan noted.
Sutton’s advice to Y.M. that he could “go with the law of the land or go with mercy, sympathy and grace,” Corrigan wrote, “indicates, falsely, that the ‘law of the land’ does not permit a juror to consider mercy in determining whether to vote for a death verdict. “
“The law of California is otherwise. Indeed the jury was instructed that it could ‘be influenced by mercy, sympathy, compassion or pity for the defendant . . . in arriving at a proper penalty in this case,’ and to consider ‘any other circumstance which extenuates the gravity of the crime even though it is not a legal excuse for the crime and any sympathetic or other aspect of the defendant’s character or record that the defendant offers as a basis for a sentence less than death, whether or not related to the offense for which he is on trial.’”
Corrigan wrote that Y.M. did not simply ask Sutton “whether imposing the death penalty would be inconsistent with his Christian beliefs.” Nor did Sutton limit his remarks to advising Y.M. “that he had an obligation to follow man[’]s law,” or simply point out that the Bible demonstrates “that one could be a good Christian and impose the death penalty.”
The court did find that Sutton told Y.M. “that mercy, sympathy, and grace are inconsistent with the ‘law of the land,’ that persons who kill must themselves be killed, and that just as a police officer has to kill in the line of duty, a juror must ‘go with the law of the land.’”
Corrigan concluded that, in viewing the totality of the circumstances, the record “demonstrates a substantial likelihood that Y.M. was influenced or actually biased against defendant by his improper conversation with Reverend Sutton, and that his vote to impose the death penalty was not based solely on the evidence and the instructions.”
This case is People v. Hensley; 14 S.O.S. 3095.
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