Friday, August 3, 2001
S.C. Upholds Death Sentence for $5 Robbery-Murder
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The state Supreme Court yesterday unanimously affirmed a Fresno man’s death sentence for a robbery-murder that apparently netted him only $5.
The justices agreed with Fresno Superior Court Judge Lawrence Jones, who concluded that Raymond Anthony Lewis’ history of violent crime, including a murder he and two friends committed when Lewis was 13, supported the jury’s death verdict.
An eyewitness testified that Lewis killed Sandra Simms by striking her on the head with a two-by-four and strangling her during a robbery in a central Fresno alley in 1988. The witness, Paul Pridgon, said he, Simms, and Lewis were on their way to buy crack when Lewis suddenly swung a wooden board at Simms’ head, striking her seven or eight times.
Lewis then ripped open the victim’s bra and took some money out, Pridgon testified. Experts testified the blows to Simms’ head shattered her face with a force equal to being hit by a car.
The defense claimed that Pridgon was the killer.
In the penalty phase, prosecutors presented evidence that Lewis, 29 at the time of his 1991 trial, was involved in an arson-murder for which he was committed to the California Youth Authority. They also presented proof that he had been convicted of robbery, receiving stolen property, and two serious drug crimes, and that he had been involved in three home-invasion burglaries, during which the residents were either robbed or attacked.
The defense presented evidence that Lewis had a diminished mental capacity, and that he had behaved well in prison.
Los Angeles attorney Thomas Kallay, who was appointed to handle Lewis’ appeal, argued that the 1975 murder shouldn’t have been factored into the sentencing. Because there was no finding by the juvenile court judge that Lewis appreciated the wrongfulness of the crime, Kallay argued, it should have been excluded from the penalty phase under Penal Code Sec. 26.
The statute says children under the age of 14 lack the capacity to commit crimes “in the absence of clear proof that at the time of committing the act charged against them, they knew its wrongfulness.”
Justice Ming Chin, writing for the high court, said it was clearly proven at the penalty phase that Lewis knew that what he did was wrong at the time. The justice cited evidence that Lewis ran from the scene of the crime, twice lied to a detective about his role in the killing, and admitted to another investigator that he had struck a match and thrown it in the car where the victim burned to death.
There is nothing unfair, Chin went on to say, about having a penalty-phase jury make a determination of the willfulness of a prior bad act years after it occurs. “A trier of fact making a section 26 determination does not attempt to read the mind of the minor, but considers the objective attendant circumstances of the crime—such as its preparation, the method of its commission, and its concealment—to determine whether the minor understood the wrongfulness of his or her conduct,” the jurist reasoned.
The justices also rejected attacks on the testimony of Pridgon, who was depicted by Lewis’ attorneys and defense experts as mentally retarded and had been diagnosed as mentally ill.
“Although Pridgon’s testimony may have consisted of inconsistencies, incoherent responses, and possible hallucinations, delusions and confabulations,” Chin wrote, it was “a plausible account of the circumstances” of the murder. Pridgon, the justice noted, knew many details that were independently corroborated, and that he was unlikely to know if he hadn’t really been there.
The case is People v. Lewis, 01 S.O.S. 3822.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company