Tuesday, July 19, 2016
S.C. Upholds Death Sentences in Three Murders
Justices Say Defendant’s Proclivity for Jailhouse Violence Justified Use of Stun Belt
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A capital defendant’s proclivity for threats and violence justified the trial judge’s use of extraordinary security measures throughout the trial, including requiring him to wear a belt that would have permitted a bailiff to deliver a disabling jolt of electricity, the state Supreme Court ruled yesterday.
The court unanimously affirmed the death sentences imposed on Richard Nathan Simon of Moreno Valley for the murders of Vincent Anes, Sherry Magpali, and Michael Sterling.
Anes and Magpali, both 18, were killed in the early morning hours of Dec. 3, 1995, after spending an evening with friends.
Anes’ bullet-riddled and naked body was found in his parked car in a local park. Magpali’s body was found hours later on the side of Interstate 215 in Sun City; she had been shot twice in the head.
Police said the two were surprised by two men who stripped them of their clothes, raped and kidnapped Magpali and shot Anes. The two were robbed of jewelry and a car stereo speaker.
Sterling was killed in May 1996. Simon was subsequently tied to the teenagers’ murders through DNA and other forensic evidence, and to the Sterling shooting when the murder weapon was found under his mattress during a probation search of his residence.
Curtis John Williams of Moreno Valley was tried separately and convicted and sentenced for his role in the murders of Magpali and Anes.
Simon’s lawyer argued that Williams alone committed those crimes. While it was conceded that Simon shot Sterling, the defense made the argument that Sterling was a violent man with a criminal record and that his killing was not first degree murder.
At the start of the trial, sheriff’s deputies brought Simon to the court wearing a Remote Electronically Activated Control Technology, or REACT, belt, as well as shackles.
Riverside Superior Court Judge Gordon R. Burkhart ordered him unshackled, but denied a defense request for removal of the belt, after questioning the bailiff as to why it was deemed necessary.
The bailiff recounted that shanks—pieces of metal fashioned into knives—had been found in Simon’s cell on two occasions, that he had been in fight with another inmate, that he had refused to return to his cell following a lockdown, that he had threatened another deputy, and that a container was found in his cell with products that could have been used to make a bomb.
Burkhart said he feared that if the belt were removed, the defendant might harm others in the courtroom. The defense again asked that the belt be removed at the start of the penalty phase, but the judge denied the request after being told by a deputy sheriff that, in addition to the previously reported incidents, Simon had claimed gang membership, been verbally aggressive toward deputies, and had written a letter containing racial slurs and mentioning a possible assault on a Hispanic inmate.
Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, writing for the high court, said the evidence before the judge met the high court’s standard of “manifest need” for the use of extraordinary measures such as the stun belt. He rejected the argument that such evidence must come from someone with personal knowledge of the events on which the ruling is based, noting that the bailiff gave specific dates and that Simon did not dispute that the incidents had occurred.
The case is People v. Simon, 16 S.O.S. 3609.
Copyright 2016, Metropolitan News Company