Friday, June 24, 2016
High Court Upholds Death Penalty in Killing of Maywood Officer, Valley Merchant
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday unanimously affirmed the death sentence for a man convicted of murdering a Maywood police officer and a Van Nuys store owner during a six-month armed robbery spree in 1991 and 1992.
With Justice Ming Chin authoring the opinion, the court rejected all of Edgardo Sanchez’s claims of error, including his challenge to since-retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Jacqueline Connor’s denial of a mistrial based on alleged ethnic bias in jury selection at the 1994 trial.
Sanchez was convicted, along with Benjamin Alberto Navarro and Jose Contreras, of the murders of John Hoglund, 46, the first Maywood police officer ever killed in the line of duty, and Woodley Market owner Lee Chul Kim, 49. The three were convicted of more than two dozen other crimes, arising from seven separate robberies, but Navarro and Contreras were spared the death penalty when jurors deadlocked in the penalty phase.
Chin said Sanchez failed to present a prima facie case that prosecutors used peremptory challenges to remove four of a possible six Hispanics from the jury. Based on the voir dire, Chin said, it could not be reasonably disputed that the potential jurors’ reluctance to impose the death penalty, not their ethnicity, was the reason they were stricken by the prosecutors.
The defense argued that the responses of the stricken venirepersons to death-penalty-related questions were not significantly different than those of non-Hispanics who were not challenged. But Chin cited the court’s prior decisions that such comparative juror analysis is not necessary at the prima-facie-case stage of the inquiry under the seminal cases of Batson v. Kentucky (1986) 476 U.S. 79 and People v. Wheeler (1978) 22 Cal.3d 258.
The defense also argued that Sanchez was prejudiced by having to go to trial with Navarro and Contreras.
Chin wrote, however:
“Virtually no reason existed for severance. There was no incriminating confession; defendant was not prejudiced by his association with the codefendants; defendant was charged with all counts, so severance would not have resulted in fewer counts; there were no conflicting defenses; and there was no suggestion that a codefendant would have given exonerating testimony at a separate trial. Rosa S. [a teenager who was a passenger in Navarro’s car when he was arrested] did testify that Navarro told her, in defendant’s absence, that defendant had shot the police officer. The court admonished the jury not to consider that evidence as to defendant. But she also testified that defendant said the same thing to her, so this circumstance could not have prejudiced defendant, and certainly did not warrant severance.”
The justice also rejected the argument that Sanchez suffered undue prejudice in the joint penalty phase because the other defendants had stronger cases in mitigation. There was no prejudice, because the judge told jurors to reach an individualized determination as to each defendant, Chin said.
Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye and Justices Kathryn M. Werdegar, Carol A. Corrigan, Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar and Leondra R. Kruger joined in the opinion.
Justice Goodwin H. Liu concurred separately, arguing, as in the past, that the rule against use of comparative juror analysis at the first step of the Wheeler/Batson inquiry is unconstitutional. But he agreed with the majority that the mistrial motions were correctly denied for lack of a prima facie case of bias.
The case is People v. Sanchez, 16 S.O.S. 2977.
Copyright 2016, Metropolitan News Company