Friday, May 9, 2003
State Supreme Court Upholds Death Sentence in Murder of Japanese Exchange Student
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
A serial rapist who admitted assaulting a Japanese exchange student, then shooting her and leaving her alone in a park, but denied he intended to kill her, was properly sentenced to death, the California Supreme Court ruled yesterday.
While Gregory Calvin Smith’s expressions of remorse for the death of Ai Toyoshima and for other violent crimes may well have been sincere, Justice Ming Chin wrote for a unanimous court, the jury was entitled to find they did not outweigh the horrific nature of the assaults.
“Defendant accosted a helpless, lone young woman, a guest in this country, shortly after she got off a bus, forced her at gunpoint to a lonely spot, raped her, and shot her to death,” Chin explained. “His stabbing of a woman in an apartment complex laundry room two months earlier, also unprovoked and without warning, could easily have been another murder. These crimes were but part of a long reign of terror, in which he victimized young girls as well as adults, and preyed repeatedly on students at a local high school.”
Prosecutors said the victim, age 16, was accosted after getting off a bus near an elementary school in San Jose. Smith forced her, at gunpoint, to accompany him to the school, raped her, then shot her in the chest with a semiautomatic pistol.
Following the shooting, according to testimony, he attempted to steal a car from the front of a liquor store, then threatened the store owner with a gun after the man tried to stop him. When a police car came by, Smith got out of the car and ran away, entered a nearby home, threatened to shoot the occupants, and stayed for hours.
He was not apprehended until two months later, when he was arrested on other charges.
Toyoshima was still alive when police found her in the park, but died the next day. The delay in obtaining treatment contributed to her death, an expert testified.
Following his arrest, Smith confessed. He said he “didn’t mean to kill” the teenager, but was “trying to rape her” and “shot her accidentally” as she struggled with him. A firearms expert, however, testified that the girl was shot from 12 to 15 inches away.
The defendant claimed that he was not a “violent person” but that rape was a “power trip.” He carried a gun to intimidate, he said, rather than to hurt anyone.
He confessed to police, he testified, because he wanted to “take the responsibility” for his actions and did not want to do “something crazy again.” He said he “was sorry for what I had done,” adding that “the murder part” was an accident.
Prosecutors presented evidence, in the penalty phase, of several other crimes with which Smith had been charged. The charges had been severed for later trial, and then dismissed in light of the death sentence.
The crimes, which occurred over an 11-month period, including an assault on a teenage girl, two robberies at knifepoint, an attempt to force his way into a woman’s apartment while carrying a gun, a rape and robbery after forcing his way into the victim’s apartment, a rape at knifepoint, a carjacking, the near-killing in the laundry room described by Chin, four assaults involving a gun or a knife on teenage girls at or near a high school, a gas station robbery, and the choking of a teenage girl after she got off a bus they had both been riding.
There was also evidence he had thrown a chair at his then-defense attorney when she spoke to him at the jail, and that he had knocked a fellow inmate unconscious. There was proof of a credit card fraud conviction and of felony convictions for forgery and possession of stolen property.
Chin rejected Smith’s contention that his remorse for the crimes and the evidence that he shot Toyoshima by accident rendered the death penalty a disproportionate punishment.
The justice wrote:
“Even if the jury, or we, were to take defendant’s protestations at face value and conclude he was truly remorseful that he had fatally shot his young, terrified victim, and that he had hoped she would survive his onslaught, the jury could also reasonably conclude that this hope and this remorse were not enough. Sometimes crimes are so heinous (and, here, so repeated) that saying one is sorry afterwards, even sincerely, is simply not enough.”
“Defendant’s claim that his shooting was accidental rings exceedingly hollow. He selected a +loaded+ gun as his weapon. If, as he claimed, he used the gun merely to gain power over his victim, rather than shoot her, he did not have to load it. Defendant is fully responsible for his actions; his repeated, deliberate criminal acts fully warrant the death sentence he faces today. The jury’s verdict does not shock the conscience. The death sentence is not disproportionate to defendant’s personal culpability.”
The case is People v. Smith, 03 S.O.S. 2349.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company