61 Cal.4th 1293, S093803, People v. Seumanu

Docket Nº:S093803
Citation:61 Cal.4th 1293, 355 P.3d 384, 192 Cal.Rptr.3d 195
Opinion Judge:WERDEGAR, J.
Party Name:THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. ROPATI SEUMANU, Defendant and Appellant
Attorney:Mark David Greenberg, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for Defendant and Appellant. Edmund G. Brown and Kamala D. Harris, Attorneys General, Dane R. Gillette, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Gerald A. Engler and Ronald S. Matthias, Assistant Attorneys General, Nanette Winaker, Kelly Crox...
Judge Panel:Cantil-Sakauye, C. J., Chin, J., Liu, J., Cu
Case Date:August 24, 2015
Court:Supreme Court of California

After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of first degree murder. Defendant was sentenced to death for the murder. While this appeal was pending, the United States District Court for the Central District of California issued its opinion in Jones v. Chappell, which held that systemic delays in implementing the California death penalty law rendered it unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment.... (see full summary)


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61 Cal.4th 1293

355 P.3d 384, 192 Cal.Rptr.3d 195

THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,


ROPATI SEUMANU, Defendant and Appellant


Supreme Court of California

August 24, 2015

Superior Court of Alameda County, No. H24057, Larry J. Goodman, Judge.

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Mark David Greenberg, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for Defendant and Appellant.

Edmund G. Brown and Kamala D. Harris, Attorneys General, Dane R. Gillette, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Gerald A. Engler and Ronald S. Matthias, Assistant Attorneys General, Nanette Winaker, Kelly Croxton and Glenn R. Pruden, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.



[355 P.3d 395] [192 Cal.Rptr.3d 208] A jury in Alameda County Superior Court convicted Ropati Seumanu in 2000 of the first degree murder of Nolan Pamintuan (Pen. Code, § 187; all further statutory references are to this code unless otherwise indicated), kidnapping to commit robbery (§ 209, subd. (a)), and first degree robbery (§ 211). The jury also sustained special circumstance allegations that Seumanu committed a murder while engaged in the commission of a robbery and a kidnapping. (§ 190.2, subd. (a)(17)(A) & (B).) In addition, the jury found that for all three felonies, defendant used a firearm; to wit, a shotgun. (§ 12022.5.) On November 1, 2000, after weighing the aggravating and mitigating evidence, the jury set the penalty at death under the 1978 death penalty law. (§ 190.1 et seq.) This appeal is automatic. (§ 1239, subd. (b).)

Following the decision in Jones v. Chappell (C.D.Cal. 2014) 31 F.Supp.3d 1050, holding that delays in implementing the California death penalty law rendered it unconstitutional under the

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Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, the parties filed supplemental briefs addressed to that issue. As explained below, we reject the Eighth Amendment claim [192 Cal.Rptr.3d 209] and otherwise affirm the judgment in its entirety.

I. Guilt Phase

A. Facts

Nolan Pamintuan was engaged to marry Rowena Panelo on May 18, 1996. He spent the evening before, May 17, with friends and family at the rehearsal dinner at a restaurant in Daly City. Panelo gave him a wedding present that night: a black Movado watch engraved with their intended wedding date. After dinner, Pamintuan drove Panelo to her [355 P.3d 396] apartment and continued on to Hayward, where he intended to spend the night at his father's apartment. Pamintuan was wearing a brown Gucci watch, a gold engagement ring, a black leather sport coat, an Old Navy-brand pea coat, and boots.

Shortly before midnight, residents on East 13th Street in Hayward heard a gunshot and saw a dark van speeding away with its lights off. One of the neighbors, Luis Hurtado, investigated and found a man bleeding to death in the street. Police were called but the man died of what the coroner's office later determined was a shotgun wound to the chest. Police found no identification of the victim at the scene.

Pamintuan's father woke at 5:30 the next morning and discovered his son had not come home. He located his son's car, an Acura, parked nearby with a security device locked on the steering wheel but the driver's side door was unlocked. Pamintuan's father called police and reported his son missing. At 12:15 p.m., police showed photographs to Pamintuan's brother, Paul, who identified the shotgun victim as his brother, Nolan. Panelo, the victim's intended bride, was told of his murder around 1:30 p.m.; they had planned to marry at 2:00 p.m. that day.

Defendant Ropati Seumanu was also known as Paki, Robert, Afatia Ropati Seumanu, and Ropati Afatia Seumanu. Defendant was a member of the Sons of Samoa street gang, which is affiliated with the Crips, and his gang moniker was alternately " Smurf" or " Mr. Smurf 1." Defendant lived with his large extended family, including his father, in Hayward. Vui Seumanu, defendant's father, was the equivalent of a tribal chief in Samoa and defendant was a direct heir to that title. Approximately 24 people lived in a three-bedroom house with a small 500-square-foot outbuilding in the back, including defendant, his wife, Lefea " Lucy" Masefau, and her daughter, Peggy; defendant's younger brother, Tautai Seumanu; Galuvae " Jay" Palega, his wife and family; 16-year-old Tony Iuli and his wife, Seu Seumanu; and others. Defendant slept

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in the outbuilding, along with Iuli and others; although the sleeping arrangements were somewhat fluid among the family members, Jay Palega asserted the outbuilding " was really [defendant's] room," and defendant kept his belongings in a cabinet there.

Defendant's activities on the night of the murder were described by Tony Iuli and Jay Palega, both of whom pleaded guilty to reduced charges and testified for the prosecution. That night defendant declared his intention to steal a car in order to commit some robberies, so defendant, Iuli, Palega, and Tautai Seumanu set off to look for a suitable vehicle to steal. They eventually located a van to their liking and Tautai and defendant used a screwdriver to steal it. Back at their family compound in Hayward with the stolen van, the group changed out of their Samoan clothes and donned dark clothes; defendant brought out firearms from the outbuilding. Iuli knew " something big" was going to happen when he saw the guns. Defendant spoke of committing robberies and everyone was " in on the deal." The foursome [192 Cal.Rptr.3d 210] left the house in the stolen van and began looking for a robbery victim. Palega was driving, Iuli was in the front passenger seat, and the Seumanu brothers, defendant and Tautai, were in the backseat. After considering and rejecting a few possibilities, the group spotted a potential victim and attempted an armed robbery but the intended victim escaped. When the group reentered the stolen van and drove off, defendant chastised Tautai for the botched robbery. They then observed Nolan Pamintuan parking his car and defendant said: " Let's go back and get that guy who just got out of the car." Palega turned the van around.

Defendant, holding a sawed-off shotgun, jumped out of the van with Iuli and confronted the victim. Pamintuan looked shocked and scared and offered defendant the inscribed black Movado watch his fiancé e had just given him hours earlier, saying: " Just take this, that is all I have." Defendant took it and then forced the victim into the van. As they drove off, defendant and Tautai stripped the victim of everything he had, including his boots, sport coat, pea coat, ring, wallet, and watch. Defendant became angry when he discovered Pamintuan was carrying only $ 3 in cash. The victim offered to withdraw [355 P.3d 397] money from the bank and was by this time begging for his life.

They drove to a bank with an automated teller machine (ATM) and defendant warned Pamintuan that if he tried to escape, defendant would kill him. Tautai and Iuli accompanied Pamintuan to the ATM, where he withdrew $ 300 and gave it to defendant upon returning to the van. Iuli was worried that the ATM camera had photographed him, Tautai, and the van. The foursome wanted the victim to withdraw more money, and when Pamintuan told them of the daily $ 300 limit they became angry. Defendant ordered Palega to drive away from the bank and find a dark spot. Defendant and Tautai argued over who would kill the victim, while Palega advised against killing him. Iuli

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exited the van in an attempt to stop the shooting, seeing no point, as Pamintuan had already given them all of his money. Pamintuan continued to beg for his life. Defendant then shot him in the chest with a single shot from the shotgun. The four then abandoned the stolen van in the neighborhood and went home.

A neighbor noticed the van around 12:30 a.m., parked, but with its motor running. When it was there the next morning, with the motor still running, the neighbor called police, who determined that it had been stolen from elsewhere in the city. It also bore bloodstains, later identified as belonging to Pamintuan. A few days later police determined the van bore Tautai Seumanu's fingerprints. Further investigation at the bank revealed video footage from the ATM camera showing Pamintuan, flanked by two larger men, withdrawing $ 300 from the ATM at 11:45 p.m. The stolen van was also visible in the video. A bank patron who used the ATM around the same time told police he saw two men go up to use the ATM, while at least one person stayed in the van with the motor running. When shown a picture of the victim, the witness thought the smaller of the men was Pamintuan but was not sure. Shown a photo lineup, the witness chose a picture of Tautai Seumanu as one of the men he saw at the ATM.

Police obtained a search warrant for the Hayward home where Tautai lived with defendant and his extended family. Defendant and Tautai were at a church function in San Francisco with their families but Iuli and Palega were present at the house and were detained by police. In a search of both the main house and the outbuilding, police found Pamintuan's [192 Cal.Rptr.3d 211] brown Gucci watch as well as a variety of ammunition, including shotgun shells. Police also found several items from Pamintuan's wallet, including the receipt for the late-night ATM transaction. Police seized defendant's leather sport coat and found an Acura car key in the...

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