8 Cal.5th 548, S029843, People v. Beck

Docket NºS029843
Citation8 Cal.5th 548
Opinion JudgeLiu, J.
Party NameThe PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. James David BECK and Gerald Dean Cruz, Defendants and Appellants.
AttorneyAndrew Parnes, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for Defendant and Appellant James David Beck. William T. Lowe, San Francisco; Michael J. Hersek, State Public Defender, under appointments by the Supreme Court, for Defendant and Appellant Gerald Dean Cruz. Edmund G. Brown, Jr., Kamala D. Har...
Case DateDecember 02, 2019
CourtSupreme Court of California

Page 548

8 Cal.5th 548

The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,


James David BECK and Gerald Dean Cruz, Defendants and Appellants.

No. S029843

Supreme Court of California

December 2, 2019

Alameda County Superior Court, 110467-A and 110467-B, Judge: Edward M. Lacey, Jr.


Andrew Parnes, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for Defendant and Appellant James David Beck.

William T. Lowe, San Francisco; Michael J. Hersek, State Public Defender, under appointments by the Supreme Court, for Defendant and Appellant Gerald Dean Cruz.

Edmund G. Brown, Jr., Kamala D. Harris and Xavier Becerra, Attorneys General, Dane R. Gillette and Gerald A. Engler, Chief Assistant Attorneys General, Jeffrey M. Laurence, Assistant Attorney General, Glenn R. Pruden and David M. Baskind, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.


Liu, J.

Defendants James David Beck and Gerald Dean Cruz were convicted of the first degree murders of Dennis Ian Colwell, Emmie Darlene Paris, Franklin Delano Raper, and Richard Talmadge Ritchey, and of conspiracy to commit murder. (Pen. Code, § § 182, subd. (a)(1), 187, subd. (a), former § 189 (all further undesignated statutory references are to the Penal Code).) The jury also found true, as to both Beck and Cruz, a multiple-murder special-circumstance allegation and allegations of personal use of a deadly weapon (baseball bats, knives, and a baton). (§ 190.2, subd. (a)(3), former § 12022, subd. (b).) After separate penalty phases before the same jury, the jury returned death verdicts — first for Cruz and then for Beck — and the trial court entered judgments of death. This appeal is automatic. (Cal. Const., art. VI, § 11, subd. (a); § 1239, subd. (b).)

We vacate as unauthorized the multiple-murder special-circumstance true findings as to Count V (conspiracy to commit murder) for Beck and Cruz, as well as the death sentences imposed for that count. (See post, pt. II.C.5.) As so modified, we affirm the judgments, including the judgments of death based on the murders.


A. Guilt Phase

Shortly after midnight on the night of May 20, 1990 and early morning hours of May 21, 1990, Beck, Cruz, Jason LaMarsh, Ronald Willey, Richard Vieira, and Michelle "Missy" Evans, entered a house located at 5223 Elm Street in Salida and killed Colwell, Paris, Raper, and Ritchey. A fifth resident, Donna Alvarez, escaped the house during the attack and subsequently identified LaMarsh as one of the perpetrators.

The original complaint charged all six perpetrators, but the cases of Vieira and Evans were severed. Following a change of venue from Stanislaus County to Alameda County, Beck and Cruz were tried with LaMarsh and Willey, but the jury was unable to reach a verdict on the charges against the latter two men.

Evans entered a plea agreement under which, as relevant here, she would plead guilty to being an accessory and the district attorney would recommend a sentence of one year (less six months for time served, and further reduced by conduct and work credits) in exchange for her truthful testimony at trial against Beck, Cruz, LaMarsh, and Willey. The crime of accessory carried a maximum term of three years of imprisonment and a fine not exceeding $5,000.

1. Prosecutor’s evidence

a. Events before May 20

In late 1989, Cruz, his girlfriend Jennifer S., and his two small children moved into a studio apartment in a residential area of Salida known as the "Camp." Around the same time, Beck and Vieira moved into a large trailer in front of the studio. At some point, LaMarsh began to date Evans and frequently stayed in a smaller trailer located behind Beck and Vieira. Cruz, Beck, and Vieira often wore camouflage clothing.

In January 1990, Raper, who was about 50 years old, moved his trailer into the Camp. Raper had several friends who frequently visited, including Debbie "Little Debbie" Smelser and James "Fat Cat" Smith. Raper had an acrimonious relationship with Beck, Cruz, and LaMarsh. Cruz told an acquaintance before the May 20, 1990 murders that he would "like to get his hands on" Raper.

At least six weeks before the murders, Beck, Cruz, and LaMarsh hooked Raper’s trailer to Beck’s van and moved it to nearby 5223 Elm Street. A group of men, including Beck, Cruz, Vieira, and LaMarsh, then pushed Raper’s car off the property. The car was then set on fire.

Tanya Miller, Michelle Evans’s younger half-sister, had previously lived with Evans at 5223 Elm Street. In April 1990, while Miller was still living at 5223 Elm Street, she received a 30-day eviction notice. She left her furniture in the house and moved in with Evans at their grandmother’s house. She received a three-day notice shortly before the murders, became anxious to move her furniture, and asked Evans to help her move.

On Friday, May 18, 1990, about 9:00 p.m., Evans, Cruz, Beck, LaMarsh, Willey, and Vieira went to 5223 Elm Street to move out furniture. Cruz brought a 12-pack of beer and shared it with everyone there, including victims Colwell, Ritchey, Raper, and Paris. Raper and LaMarsh spoke for about 10 minutes and then briefly engaged in a fistfight. Beck and Willey then started wrestling with Vieira. No furniture was moved. After 45 minutes to an hour, Evans and the others returned to the Camp. Later that night, Colwell visited the Camp and was beaten by Beck, Cruz, LaMarsh, Willey, and Vieira before being permitted to leave.

b. Events on May 20 and May 21, 1990

Around noon on May 20, Smith visited Raper at 5223 Elm Street. Victims Ritchey and Colwell were also there. Sometime between 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m., Smith observed LaMarsh visit the neighbor next door to Raper.

Sometime on the evening of May 20, Vieira visited Cruz’s next-door neighbor, Dee Ann Messinger; Vieira was dressed in camouflage clothes, a dark ski cap that resembled a cap found at the murder scene, and black boots. He was carrying a silver or gray bat that resembled the color and length of a bat found at the murder scene and asked to borrow spray paint.

Around 6:00 p.m. on May 20, Evans visited the Camp. Cruz asked Evans to draw a floor plan of the house at 5223 Elm Street. As she did so, Cruz sharpened a Ka-Bar knife, a fixed blade about 10 inches long with serrations on one side. Cruz also told Evans to call her half-sister Miller and "tell her not to go home tonight."

Late at night on May 20, Patricia Badgett was visiting her boyfriend Willey when he received a telephone call from a person who sounded like Cruz. Willey lived in Ceres and had shoulder-length hair. Willey asked Cruz, "Can we move a different day?" and explained he did not feel well. Willey left a few minutes later.

Later that evening, Evans, Cruz, Beck, LaMarsh, Willey (whose hair was in a ponytail), and Vieira gathered in LaMarsh’s trailer and were given assignments of what to do at 5223 Elm Street. Everyone but Evans and LaMarsh was wearing camouflage clothing. Cruz pointed to Evans’s floor plan, gave each person a specific entrance and time to enter, and said they should "go and do them all and leave no witnesses." Evans understood "do them all" to mean kill them but did not believe Cruz was serious. Evans was to "count the people and get them in the living room," and then open the back bedroom window for Beck and Vieira. Cruz said if "anyone didn’t do their job right, they would join the people in the house." Cruz also said that if Little Debbie was there, "she’s his," and that he hoped Fat Cat was there. Cruz handed out four paintball or camouflage masks to Beck, Willey, Vieira, and himself. Cruz said that handguns would not be used because they were "too noisy." There was no discussion of moving furniture.

Around midnight, Evans, Beck, Cruz, LaMarsh, Willey, and Vieira, who were carrying weapons, drove to 5223 Elm Street. Evans and LaMarsh were dropped off, and the others parked the car. Evans entered the home and then from a window observed Beck, Cruz, Willey, and Vieira running toward the house wearing masks. Vieira also wore a dark ski cap. Beck and Vieira entered the house through the window where Evans was standing. Beck and Vieira ran toward the living room, and about 30 seconds later Evans heard Paris screaming, "Oh, God, oh, God," and "I didn’t do it, I didn’t do it," and pleading for her life. Evans left the house and went to the car. On the way, she saw Willey sitting on the back of a person lying facedown in the street; Willey and Cruz, who had a baton, did something to this individual.

Donna Alvarez, who was homeless and had been offered a place to stay at 5223 Elm Street on May 20 by victim Ritchey, fell asleep in a back bedroom around 8:00 p.m. Alvarez was awakened around midnight by a woman she now knew as Evans, who said Evans’s sister needed the bedroom and Alvarez had to get up. Alvarez went into the living room and asked Raper if there was anywhere else she could sleep. He said she could sleep wherever she liked, so Alvarez, joined by Ritchey, went into the other bedroom. A man, whom Alvarez later identified as LaMarsh, was holding a silver gun and said, "Everyone into the living room." Alvarez ran and hid under clothes in the garage. She heard people "wrestling" and a woman scream. She managed to push up the garage door and escape, and sought help from a neighbor who called the police.

Around midnight, Earl Creekmore, who lived near 5223 Elm Street, heard someone running next to his house and then a loud bang on his air conditioner. Creekmore went outside to investigate. He saw two men "beating up on one guy" on his knees in the street; the victim was screaming, "Oh, God, help me." The victim also said, "No, stop, please don’t." The assailants were kicking the victim in the ribs and punching him in the back of the head....

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