Monday, December 28, 2015
S.C. Upholds Death Sentence in Murder of Police Officer
Omission of Jury Instruction on Proof of Lying in Wait Held Not to Require Reversal
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday unanimously affirmed the death sentence for a gang member who shot and killed a Long Beach police officer in April 2000.
Ramon Sandoval Jr. committed a “particularly heinous” murder, Justice Goodwin H. Liu wrote for the court. He fired 28 shots from an assault rifle at the unmarked patrol car occupied by Detectives Daryle Black and Rick Delfin, beginning his shooting spree from about 15 feet away.
Black died early the next day, the first Long Beach officer in 25 years to die in the line of duty. Delfin, who tried to drive away from the scene, suffered serious injuries, including a shattered knee. He remained with the Long Beach police, but had to be removed from street duty.
Attack in Gang Area
The anti-gang detectives, according to testimony, came under attack while driving in an area known for gang activity. They stumbled upon Sandoval and other heavily armed Barrio Pobre gang members, who were headed for a birthday party where they planned to take revenge for an earlier shooting.
Sandoval recognized the police vehicle and ducked behind a parked car. He noticed that the officers were looking at his friend, Miguel Camacho, who was on the opposite side of the street and who was armed and on parole.
In his subsequent confession, Sandoval said he opened fire on the police car in order to “save” Camacho from “going to jail,” and acknowledged that the officers had no way of seeing him.
Sandoval was convicted of first degree murder with special circumstances of lying in wait, of murder of a peace officer engaged in the lawful performance of his duties and for the purpose of preventing a lawful arrest, and of killing on behalf of a criminal street gang. He was also convicted of the attempted murder of Delfin and of the armed assault of a woman who was struck by a bullet in her nearby apartment.
The Los Angeles Superior Court jury at his first trial deadlocked as to the penalty. A penalty retrial was held, and the jury, which heard much of the same testimony, voted for the death penalty.
Judge Joan Comparet-Cassani, since retired, imposed the sentence, describing the crime as coldblooded and heartless, according to a news account.
“He satisfied his own intentions with reckless disregard for all others and the law, with a cold detachment to the death he caused,” the judge said.
The defense, at trial and on appeal, focused largely on the issues of premeditation and lying-in-wait, arguing that the shooting was “intentional but unplanned,” and that Sandoval should only have been convicted of second degree murder.
Liu, however, writing for the high court, said there was “ample, uncontradicted direct evidence from Sandoval’s own confession and conduct of premeditation and deliberation. “
He cited Sandoval’s admission that he preferred to kill a police officer than to see his friend returned to prison, and testimony from an eyewitness that he continued to shoot for two minutes, suggesting the killing was a prolonged “military-style execution of Sandoval’s hastily made plan from which the jury could reasonably infer premeditation and deliberation.”
There was “scant evidence to support” the claim of second degree murder, he added. The killing was not “rash and impulsive,” such as when a killing is provoked or committed in the heat of passion, but rather “willful, deliberate, and premeditated.”
One Finding Reversed
Liu did say that the lying-in-wait finding must be reversed. The evidence of lying-in-wait was largely circumstantial, he said, concluding that the trial judge breached a sua sponte duty to instruct jurors on how to evaluate such evidence.
But that error does not compel reversal of the death sentence, Liu said, because most of the evidence used to prove lying-in-wait was admissible to prove other aspects of the case, and because the nature of the crime was such that a reasonable jury would have voted for the death penalty based on the other special circumstances alone.
Turning to another issue, Liu said there was no error in disqualifying, for cause, a potential juror who gave equivocal responses to questions about the death penalty. It is permissible to excuse a venire member whose comments indicate that he does not have a bias for or against capital punishment, but would be unable to make up his or her mind, the justice explained.
Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye and Justices Kathryn M. Werdegar, Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar and Leondra R. Kruger joined Liu’s opinion.
Justice Ming Chin, joined by Justice Carol A. Corrigan, agreed that the conviction and sentence should be affirmed, but argued in a separate opinion that a circumstantial evidence instruction was unnecessary. The prosecution, he said, relied primarily on direct evidence, including the confession and eyewitness testimony.
The case is People v. Sandoval, 15 S.O.S. 6161.
Copyright 2015, Metropolitan News Company