Tuesday, July 23, 2002
S.C. Upholds Death Sentence in Bay Area Robbery-Murder
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The state Supreme Court yesterday unanimously upheld the death sentence for a former Los Angeles man who claimed it was his accomplice who slashed the throat of a gas station attendant during a 1982 robbery that netted $75.
Raymond Anthony Gurule, who had a history of violence dating back to an assault on a house parent in a group home in Los Angeles in the early 1970s, becomes the ninth Death Row inmate in California to have his sentence upheld this year. There have been no reversals.
Jurors convicted Gurule of first degree murder with two special circumstances, that he had murdered 15-year-old Elliot Dolinka during the course of a robbery and that he had previously been convicted of murder. Gurule was serving a 15-year-to-life sentence for a second degree murder that took place in Alameda County in 1984 when he was identified as a suspect in the Daly City killing two years earlier.
The jury in his first trial deadlocked in the penalty phase. A second jury returned a death penalty verdict, and San Mateo Superior Court Judge James Ottis Miller imposed sentence.
The justices rejected Gurule’s claim that his constitutional right to confront his accuser was violated when Judge Lawrence Stevens—who presided at the first trial and has since been elevated to the First District Court of Appeal—barred Gurule’s lawyers from discovering records of his accomplice’s psychiatric treatment.
Stevens granted the defense access to a substantial amount of psychiatric material concerning Mark Garrison, who told police that he and Gurule robbed Barry’s Chevron in Daly City. Garrison said it was Gurule who killed the young attendant during the early-Saturday-morning robbery.
Garrison was initially found incompetent to stand trial, but he was found fit after treatment and entered a guilty plea to a charge of first degree murder without special circumstances. He was sentenced to 30 years to life in prison and agreed to testify against Gurule, whom he had implicated in an unsolicited 1987 confession after police had exhausted hundreds of leads without making an arrest.
Stevens, after an extensive in camera inspection, allowed the defense to have access to some of Garrison’s psychiatric records. But the judge declined to consider disclosure of records concerning Garrison’s meetings with psychiatrists retained by his lawyer as potential expert witnesses, holding that the attorney-client privilege was an absolute bar to such disclosure.
Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar, writing for the high court, agreed. The records were “fully privileged,” she said. Even if they weren’t, she added, the disclosure of a substantial amount of psychiatric material—more than Gurule would have been entitled to under current case law, the justice noted—rendered any error harmless.
“The jury was informed that Garrison was psychotic at the time he was arrested, that he was taking tranquilizing medication as well as antipsychotic medication, that he originally was found incompetent to stand trial, that he heard voices in his head (auditory hallucinations), that he was paranoid and believed inmates were intending to do him harm, that he engaged in unusual and repetitious hand movements, and that he was generally confused and disorganized in his thinking,” Werdegar explained.
The justices also rejected Gurule’s claims that Garrison should not have been allowed to testify, since he did not know Gurule by name and could not identify him in court, and that the testimony was “inherently unreliable” since Garrison had a plea agreement that left open the possibility his plea would be vacated if newly discovered evidence showed that he had lied about his lack of participation in the murder.
Garrison said he only knew his co-robber as “Apache,” which was tattooed on his forearm. (Gurule is partially of Native American ancestry, Werdegar explained in a footnote.)
But the testimony was probative, Werdegar said, since Gurule had the tattoo described by Garrison, lived in the area where Garrison said Apache lived, and was identified by other witnesses as having been seen in the vicinity of Barry’s Chevron around the time of the murder.
Werdegar also noted that the trial occurred seven years after the crime, and that any prejudice resulting from Garrison’s testimony was minimal in light of Gurule’s admission that he participated in the robbery.
As for the plea agreement, the justice concluded that it did not deprive Gurule of a fair trial. While a plea agreement requiring testimony against an accomplice always involves “a certain degree of compulsion,” she explained, the bargain Garrison received was not “tainted beyond redemption” because it only required that he tell the truth, not that he testify in accordance with the prosecution’s theory of the case.
The case is People v. Gurule, 02 S.O.S. 3703.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company