Tuesday, December 4, 2001
S.C. Upholds Death Sentence for Orange County Robbery-Murder
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
The state Supreme Court yesterday affirmed the murder conviction and death sentence of Robert Clarence Taylor, who claimed he was under the influence of cocaine when he shot and killed an Anaheim resident and left her husband paralyzed.
In a 29-page opinion, brief for a California death penalty case, Justice Ming Chin said there was sufficient evidence to support the jury’s death penalty verdict and Orange Superior Court Judge Francisco P. Briseno’s rejection of the defense motion for modification. The court also affirmed Taylor’s convictions for attempted murder, burglary, and two counts of robbery.
Chin wrote for a unanimous court, which included Court of Appeal Justice Robert Mallano of this district’s Div. One. Mallano was assigned to the case following the death of Justice Stanley Mosk.
Taylor and codefendant James DeWitt were convicted of killing Ryoko Hanono and wounding Kazumi Hanono in 1988, after showing up at their home on the pretext of purchasing a black 1984 Corvette they had advertised for sale. Kazumi Hanono testified that that he and his wife were handcuffed together and brought them into their bedroom, then forced to kneel facedown with their heads on the mattress.
Taylor, he said, pulled the mattress over their heads before they were shot. Before losing consciousness, he said, he heard Taylor tell DeWitt to look for money and jewels in the house. Dean Hanono testified that he came home hours later and found his parents still handcuffed and kneeling next to the bed.
The police subsequently arrested Taylor after he was seen driving the Corvette. They eventually charged both men along with Nanette Scheid, who was not present at the time of the shooting but was accused of setting up the robbery after previously visiting the Hanono home to look at the car.
Taylor and DeWitt were both convicted of first degree murder with a robbery-burglary special circumstance. Scheid, the only defendant to testify in the guilt phase, denied any knowledge of the robbery plan but was convicted of first degree murder without special circumstances.
In the penalty phase, Taylor testified about his physically abusive father, his biracial heritage, his cocaine use, and his love for a woman inmate. He said he did not intend to shoot the Hanonos but panicked under the influence of cocaine.
Jurors, however, returned a death penalty against Taylor. DeWitt was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.
Taylor’s court-appointed appellate lawyer, Susan K. Marr of Brentwood, Tenn., argued that Briseno committed a number of penalty phase errors, including allowing Kazumi and Dean Hanono to testify in the penalty phase as to the impact of Ryoko Hanono’s death on the family, including two other children who did not testify.
Chin noted that the prosecution gave a general notice of intent to present evidence in the penalty phase in 1989, but no mention was made of victim-impact evidence, the admission of which had been outlawed by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court reversed course in June 1991, holding that such evidence was admissible, but the prosecution in the Taylor case gave no notice of intent to offer such evidence until Nov. 5, 1991, the day before the penalty phase began.
Chin agreed with the defense that Taylor should have received specific and more timely notice of the prosecution’s intent. But the jurist—who noted that the admissibility of victim-impact evidence in the penalty phase under California law was not resolved until later in 1991—agreed with Deputy Attorney General Carl Horst that there was no reversible error under the circumstances.
“Here, the trial court was careful to limit the victim impact evidence to testimony by Kazumi and Dean Hanono, much of which was already elicited during the guilt phase,” Chin wrote. “Although defendant now claims that ‘Counsel were not given sufficient notice to allow them to effectively meet this evidence,’ he fails to explain what more he could have done.”
The justice noted that there was no request for continuance nor any objection to the timeliness of the testimony, and that the Hanonos had already testified during the guilt phase and told the jury much of what was included in their guilt phase testimony.
The case is People v. Taylor, 01 S.O.S. 5729.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company