Tuesday, June 11, 2002
S.C. Upholds Death Sentence in Local Home Invasion
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A man who was already serving a life sentence for a Pasadena murder when he was charged with raping and killing a Los Angeles woman in her home was properly sentenced to death for the second killing, the state Supreme Court ruled yesterday.
The justices unanimously rejected Jack Gus Farnam’s challenge to the death sentence he received for the 1982 murder of Lillian Mar, a 55-year-old widow who was bludgeoned, raped and sodomized. Farnam, who was 18 at the time and had spent time in juvenile facilities for burglary, was first linked to the crime two months after he was arrested by Pasadena police, minutes after attempting to break into an occupied room at a Holiday Inn in that city.
Further investigation tied Farnam to two earlier crimes at the same Holiday Inn—a 1983 robbery and assault and a 1981 murder in which the victim was also sodomized. Jurors in the Mar murder were told of the three crimes at the motel, and that Farnam assaulted a police officer who stopped him for questioning minutes after the third incident, trying to strike the officer with his own baton.
Farnam did not testify during the guilt phase, in which his counsel attacked the scientific bases of the prosecution’s evidence. In the penalty phase, he admitted coming into Mar’s home and raping and killing her, but denied the sodomy allegation and said he did not intend to kill and was sorry.
The prosecution sought to cross-examine Farnam regarding the earlier murder, but he declined to answer questions about it because he was appealing the conviction.
Justice Marvin Baxter, writing for the high court, rejected Farnam’s argument on appeal that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Clarence Stromwall—who retired in 1991—should have declared a mistrial or removed four jurors following a lunchtime incident. The four women went to lunch together and were walking when one of them had her purse snatched.
The incident was reported to the court. Stromwall questioned the purse-snatch victim, then the other three women, before concluding that the incident would not affect the jurors’ ability to consider the evidence and render a fair verdict.
Baxter agreed. The jurors’ assurances that they would be fair, combined with the lack of similarity between the incident and the crime with which Farnam was charged, support the trial judge’s ruling that the jurors remained qualified to hear the case.
The justice went on to reject the contention that Farnam should not have been permitted to waive his right to a separate trial phase on the prior-murder special circumstance. His appellate counsel argued that the right is non-waivable, and that the waiver constituted ineffective assistance.
But Baxter said there was no authority to treat the waiver of a separate proceeding as an exception to the general rule that a defendant may knowingly waive procedural rights if he or she is aware of the consequences. In Farnam’s case, the trial judge created a clear record that Farnam knew what he was doing, and that his lawyers had carefully considered and recommended the waiver, the justice said.
That recommendation did not constitute ineffective assistance, Baxter said, because it was a reasonable tactical choice. Given the strength of the prosecution’s case, the jurist explained, it was sensible for defense counsel to put the issue out front rather than risk additional scorn from jurors if they learned it for the first time after finding the defendant guilty.
Any benefit from the bifurcation of the issues would have been minimal, Baxter added, since jurors already had four other special-circumstance allegations before them—felony-murder charges of burglary, robbery, rape and sodomy, all of which were found true.
The case is People v. Farnam, 02 S.O.S. 2871.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company