Tuesday, July 8, 2014
State Supreme Court Tosses Double-Murder Conviction And Death Sentence, Citing Juror Misconduct
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday unanimously threw out the first degree murder conviction and death sentence of a Riverside County man, citing juror misconduct.
Justice Carol Corrigan said Fred Lewis Weatherton didn’t receive a fair trial in 2002 because one of the jurors decided and discussed the case before the start of deliberations.
Weatherton was convicted of shooting to death two neighbors, whom he had earlier been smoking crack with, during a 1998 robbery in Indio. A third neighbor who was seriously wounded identified Weatherton as the shooter.
Investigators also matched footprints at the scene to shoes Weatherton was wearing when he was arrested shortly after the incident.
The surviving victim, Nelva Bell, said she survived by “play[ing] dead” after Weatherton shot her twice.
After the jury returned its guilty verdict, but before the start of the penalty phase, multiple sources reported to the court and counsel that jurors were discussing the case. After examining several jurors, Riverside Superior Court Judge James Hawkins determined that a juror who was identified only as P.P. had disregarded the court’s instructions not to form opinions about the case and not to discuss the case with fellow jurors prior to deliberations.
The judge concluded, however, that P.P.’s “serious misconduct” didn’t “rise to the level that there is a substantial likelihood [of bias].” The evidence, the trial judge said, showed that P.P. engaged in deliberations, was not “dead set” on a verdict of guilty, and only voted initially for guilt to see what others had to say.
He found that, before deliberations began, P.P. decided that his first vote would be guilty, but he would thereafter listen to the other jurors and engage in deliberations.
Corrigan, however, said the evidence of prejudicial misconduct was “overwhelming.”
“It is undisputed that P.P. repeatedly talked about the case outside deliberations. He did so in direct defiance of the trial court’s repeated admonitions. He discussed the case during his daily commute, at lunch, during cigarette breaks, in court hallways, and in elevators. He telephoned non-deliberating jurors during deliberations, reporting what was occurring in the jury room. Multiple jurors testified that, long before the prosecution rested its case, P.P. conveyed a belief in defendant’s guilt….He also told jurors, both before and during deliberations, that defendant deserved the death penalty, indicating that his mind was made up regarding guilt. Jurors testified that, on the first day of trial, P.P. stated that Bell’s testimony was dispositive on guilt.”
The trial judge erred, Corrigan explained, in failing to shift the burden to the prosecution to show a lack of prejudice, once he found serious misconduct on the part of the juror. Given “the nature, scope, and frequency of P.P.’s misconduct, along with his repeated and admitted untruthfulness,” the court could not find that the prosecution had rebutted the presumption, and was thus required to reverse, the justice said.
The Riverside County District Attorney’s Office told The Associated Press it had not decided how it will proceed.
The case is People v. Weatherton, 14 S.O.S. 3433.
Copyright 2014, Metropolitan News Company