Tuesday, April 29, 2003
High Court Upholds Death Sentence for Man Who Killed Covina Neighbors
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
The California Supreme Court yesterday unanimously upheld the death sentence imposed on a Covina man for killing two women who lived in the apartments next to his.
The attorney for Martin Anthony Navarette, who was 24 when the murders occurred in 1989, argued that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Theodore D. Piatt—who has since retired—failed to consider mitigating circumstances in upholding the jury’s death penalty verdict.
But Justice Janice Rogers Brown, writing for the court, said the evidence supported the trial judge’s conclusion that Navarette was undeserving of mercy because the killings were a “blood bath,” “callous and inhumane,” and “uncommonly cruel,” and because the defendant was “remorseless” on the night of the crimes and “had abandoned any sense of morality.”
Police arrested Navarette after a report of a woman’s scream brought them to the small apartment complex where the defendant and the victims lived. Officers discovered the body of Alexandra Hickman, 24, sprawled on her bedroom floor and discovered that she had been stabbed numerous times—one officer later testified there were too many wounds to count.
They then went to the apartment next door to Hickman’s to find out if the tenant there knew anything about the killing. There was no answer, and when they learned the tenant had not shown up for work, they broke down the door and found the body of 42-year-old Deborah Converse, who also had been stabbed numerous times.
Converse’s apartment had been burglarized a few days earlier. Police later located witnesses who said that Navarette had asked them how he would go about selling items of the type taken from the apartment, in a conversation a day before the murders.
Navarette was arrested a few hours after the bodies were found.
Jurors found him guilty of both murders, found that he had committed both of them in the commission or attempted commission of the felonies of robbery and burglary. They also convicted him of robbery and burglary as to Converse, burglary and attempted robbery as to Hickman, and battery with serious injury and second degree robbery as to Navarette’s girlfriend, who said he hit her and took her keys and car after she noticed what appeared to be blood stains on his clothes.
Navarette was arrested at his mother’s house the next night after failing to show up for work that day.
Police were able to obtain the defendant’s clothing. Tests revealed that it was stained with Hickman’s and Converse’s blood.
In seeking the death penalty, prosecutors emphasized the brutal nature of the murders as well as Navarette’s prior conviction of assault with intent to rape. The defense argued that the defendant had a difficult upbringing in a broken home and had a drug problem that he had unsuccessfully tried to deal with.
Iowa attorney Jeffrey Garland, who represented Navarette on appeal, argued that the felony-murder special circumstances were unproven because the defendant might have entered the apartments without intent to steal and then taken the victims’ property after they were dead.
But Brown said jurors could infer the requisite intent from the evidence that Navarette had struggled with Hickman, and was trying to get money for what may have been stolen property the day before the murders.
“While it may be true that one cannot rob a person who is already dead when one first arrives on the scene, one can certainly rob a living person by killing that person and then taking his or her property,” the justice wrote.
The court’s decision comes two years after Garland, who used to practice in Costa Mesa, was held in contempt and fined $500 by the court for failing to file his opening brief in the case on time, even though he had been granted 13 extensions of the deadline.
Garland expressed “deep regret” for not having lodged his opening brief with the high court until March 23, 2001 two months after the court had ordered him to show cause why he should not be held in contempt.
The justices decided not to refer the matter to the State Bar for disciplinary investigation.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company