Friday, August 16, 2002
State High Court Upholds Death Sentence for Former Firefighter Who Killed Wife’s ‘Boyfriend’
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A former firefighter convicted of forcing his son from a prior marriage to rape his estranged wife and killing the person with whom she was living was properly sentenced to death, the state Supreme Court ruled yesterday.
In an opinion by Justice Marvin Baxter for a unanimous court, the justices upheld the death sentences imposed on Isaac Gutierrez Jr. by San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Ben Kayashima. A jury found Gutierrez guilty of the murders of Billie Faye Jones and John Stopher.
The court also upheld Gutierrez’s convictions for the kidnapping of Rose V., as his wife was identified; for aiding and abetting her rape; and for the attempted murder of Coachella police officer David Dunavent.
Stopher, who was living with Rose V. at the time, was a woman who had been taking large amounts of testosterone for years, had a full beard, and was identified by Rose V. to the defendant as her boyfriend. Jones, whose body was found in her van—which Gutierrez was driving when he was stopped by Dunavent for a traffic violation—was a medical clerk at Kern County General Hospital and was seeing Gutierrez socially at the time she was killed.
Gutierrez is a former firefighter for the State Department of Forestry, a post from which he was twice fired because his drinking problems had affected his work. After the second termination, he tried to run over a police officer during a drunk driving stop and was sentenced to four years in prison.
While he was incarcerated, his wife told him she had a boyfriend and filed for divorce. Gutierrez was paroled in August 1986.
He went to live with his sister and her husband in Bakersfield in October 1986. On the last day of that month, he picked up his 15-year-old son in Jones’ van and took him to the Hesperia home that he had shared with his wife.
At the house, Gutierrez’s son raped Rose V., while Gutierrez went into the bathroom and shot Stopher with a shotgun. Rose V. was then dragged from the house and placed in the van where she was gagged and blindfolded.
Gutierrez testified at a juvenile court hearing for his son that he had forced Joseph to participate, striking him on the head when he tried to back out before they entered the house. At his own trial, he claimed that he lied in juvenile court to protect his son.
Dunavent testified that he stopped the van because a headlight was out. When he looked into the vehicle, he testified, he heard right behind him the sound that a gun makes when someone attempts to fire it but the chamber is empty.
A gun battle ensued, Dunavent said, which resulted in Gutierrez being struck by a single bullet and taken to the hospital. Rose V. then came out of the van and sought help.
The van was released to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department as part of its investigation into the Hesperia crimes. A detective eventually went through the vehicle and found the wrapped body of Jones, who had been garroted.
The doweling used to make the handles of the garrote was traced to a piece of wood in the home of Gutierrez’ sister.
Gutierrez denied killing Jones, claiming he found her dead in the van. He suggested that her death was related to the fact that she used drugs and owed money to dealers.
He made the garrote, and gave it to her, because she was afraid of the dealers, he testified. The prosecution, however, argued that he killed her because she knew he planned to attack Stopher and his ex-wife.
He admitted killing Stopher, but said he did not plan to do so before entering the house. He became enraged, he said, when he went into the bathroom and saw “a man with no penis or testicles screaming at me…threatening me, telling me to get…out of his house.”
He denied attempting to shoot Dunavent.
Baxter rejected the defense contentions that the trial for Jones’ murder should have taken place in Kern County, where she was killed, or in Riverside County where the van stop occurred, and that the two murders should have been tried separately in any event.
It was never conclusively determined where Jones was killed, Baxter said, and it was proper to try her murder in San Bernardino County where her body was found, particularly since her killing was part of a crime spree that began there.
Nor did the trial judge abuse his discretion in denying severance.
Evidence of each murder would have been admissible to prove the other, Baxter reasoned. “Nor was this a situation where a weak case was joined with a strong one in order to produce a spillover effect that unfairly strengthened or bootstrapped the weak case,” he wrote.
The case is People v. Gutierrez, 02 S.O.S. 4303.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company