Tuesday, June 2, 2015
S.C. Upholds Death Sentence for Man Convicted of Killing Family
Justices Approve Decision to Grant Fourth Trial Following Jury Deadlock
By a MetNews Staff Writer
An Orange Superior Court judge did not abuse his discretion in ordering a fourth death penalty trial for an Orange County man convicted at his first trial of murdering his mother, father, and brother, the state Supreme Court ruled yesterday.
Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar, writing for a unanimous court, said there was no overriding reason why Edward Charles III could not be tried for a fourth time after the original jury deadlocked 11-1 in favor of the death penalty, the second trial resulted in a death penalty verdict that was thrown out by the trial judge based on juror misconduct, and a third trial ended in another 11-1 deadlock.
The fourth trial occurred in 1998, four years after the bodies of Edward Charles II, 55; Dolores Charles, 47; and Danny Charles, 19, were found in a burnt-out car in La Mirada. Authorities determined that Edward and Danny Charles had been struck with a blunt instrument and that Dolores Charles had been strangled, most likely at the family home in Fullerton.
Edward Charles’ skull and ribs had been crushed.
Edward Charles III denied to police having killed his family, but his martial-arts teacher claimed he had confessed to him, and Charles admitted to police that he had moved and burned the bodies. While in jail, he claimed that his 73-year-old grandfather had committed the murders.
Charles’ defense lawyer, Thomas M. Goethals—now an Orange Superior Court judge—sought to exclude from the trial a letter that a jailer had seized from an inmate who claimed that Charles had written it. In the letter, Charles purportedly detailed how he had moved and burned the bodies, and claimed that the unnamed killers had left a letter threatening to kill his fiancée and her family if he told police who they were.
The defense said it would call an expert to testify that the handwriting on the letter wasn’t the defendant’s, but Judge William R. Froeberg, following an Evidence Code §402 hearing on the issue, said it was.
Froeberg said he was persuaded that Charles wrote the letter, in part because it was consistent with the defendant’s statements to police and included details that no one else would have known, and because an Orange County Register reporter, Tony Saavedra, testified—consistent with his reporting—that he asked Charles about the letter and the defendant didn’t deny writing it.
Had Charles not been the author, Froeberg reasoned, he would have denied writing it when the reporter asked about it, so his having “hopscotched” around the question, as the reporter put it, constituted an adoptive admission.
At trial, the defense argued that the inmate from whom the letter was seized, after he tried to trade it to authorities for assistance in two cases, actually fabricated the letter based on media accounts and information he had obtained from the defendant. But jurors found Charles guilty of one count of first degree murder and two counts of second degree murder.
The foreperson of the jury in the last trial told a reporter that the crime was gruesome and that the defendant’s lack of remorse was a key factor in the verdict.
With regard to the judge’s decision to allow a fourth trial, which the defense argued would be waste of money, Werdegar said Froeberg properly considered the fact that 34 of the 36 jurors who sat in the first three trials voted for the death penalty, along with the strength of the prosecution’s case, the relative lack of mitigation, and the lack of prejudice to the defendant, who the judge noted “is not going anywhere.”
Froeberg cautioned, however, that “[i]n the words of Mick Jagger, ‘This could be the last time.’ ”
No Basis for Reversal
In concluding there was no basis for reversal, Werdegar explained that the prosecution is entitled to a second trial as a matter of right if the jury deadlocks on penalty in the original trial. The fact that the third trial resulted in a death verdict, not a hung jury, weighed in favor of holding another trial, the justice said, explaining in a footnote that the court was not saying how it would have ruled if there had been three hung juries.
The decision to allow a fourth trial “was neither irrational nor arbitrary,” the justice wrote. The case, she noted, involved a “horrendous crime as to which defendant offered little in the way of mitigation and as to which the overwhelming number of prior jurors had voted for death.”
Werdegar also rejected the defense argument that the letter seized from inmate Cezar Pinock should have been excluded. The trial judge, she said, correctly analyzed the adoptive admission issue.
The case is People v. Charles, 15 S.O.S. 2717.
Copyright 2015, Metropolitan News Company