Friday, September 21, 2018
Brutality of Murder Indicated Lack of Premeditation—C.A.
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district has ordered that a conviction for first-degree murder be lowered to second-degree, declaring that the brutality of the slaying did not reflect premeditation.
“Just the opposite,” Justice Anne H. Egerton of Div. Three said in an opinion filed Wednesday and not certified for publication.
She said the nature of the killing—“with 41 stab wounds around the head, face, arm, chest, and back, and some defensive wounds”—suggests a spur-of-the-moment crime. Quoting from the 2010 opinion by Court of Appeal Presiding Justice David Sills (since deceased) for the Fourth District’s Div. Three in People v. Nazeri, she that said that ‘at least in a vacuum,” the killing would be “associated with someone losing his mind and going beserk, which is not a state of mind we associate with premeditation or deliberation.”
She quoted Sills as observing:
“We note an irony here: The more genteel the form of dispatch, the more readily premeditation may be inferred. Vicious brutal knifings, particularly when the victim is awake and fighting back, tend to fall on the opposite side of the spectrum from, say, the administration of arsenic in a guest’s tea.’ ”
The decision reduces defendant Stewart M. Teofilo’s sentence from 26 years-to-life to 16 years-to-life.
The case stems from the June 24, 2002 murder near a pier in Long Beach of Maurice Howard, who was found in his truck by a group of fishermen. Police at the time, lacking a suspect, did not order DNA tests of blood samples found at the scene, where Howard had been stabbed 41 times.
In 2014, the authorities found a match for an unidentified blood sample, which belonged to Teofilo. Upon arrest and questioning, Teofilo denied having been involved in the murder.
The jury heard recordings of conversations between Teofilo and a paid informant who police enlisted to question the suspect. Teofilo maintained his innocence of the murder, but did tell the plant that he had discovered Howard’s body in a truck at the pier before the anglers did, and had taken money from the vehicle.
“The evidence in this case does not furnish a reasonable foundation for a jury to infer Teofilo killed Howard with premeditation and deliberation. The undeniable brutality of the killing and the multiple stab wounds are not enough to show that Teofilo acted with careful thought and weighing of considerations. Nothing supports a conclusion that Teofilo formed an intent to kill Howard upon preexisting reflection, actual deliberation, or forethought.…The DNA evidence connecting Teofilo to Howard’s 2002 murder provides no basis for insight into what Teofilo did before the killing, or whether Teofilo had any prior acquaintance or relationship with Howard….Teofilo’s own statements about finding the body and taking the money from Howard’s truck are evidence about the aftermath of the killing, not a ‘preconceived design’ beforehand….Teofilo’s conduct after Howard was dead, standing alone, is not sufficient to establish premeditation and deliberation.”
The jurist rejected Teofilo’s contention that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Laura L. Laesecke erred in excluding expert testimony he wanted to present on police techniques in inducing false memories.
“But memories of what, and shared with whom?” Egerton asked. She continued:
“Teofilo did not confess to killing Howard, either to the paid inmate or to the police. He eventually told the paid inmate he took money from the truck and then jumped out when he saw Howard’s body, but he then told the detectives he couldn’t figure out how his blood got on the truck, repeatedly denied he killed anyone, and, when pressed, said he did not remember ever getting into the truck.”
Egerton added that “expert testimony that Teofilo might have formed a false memory of getting into Howard’s truck would not be probative of his guilt of murder, and ran a real risk of prolonging the trial and confusing and misleading the jury.”
The case is People v. Teofilo, B277419.
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