People v. Alcala

Decision Date31 December 1992
Docket NumberNo. 25693,No. S004724,S004724,25693
Citation842 P.2d 1192,15 Cal.Rptr.2d 432,4 Cal.4th 742
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties, 842 P.2d 1192 The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Rodney James ALCALA, Defendant and Appellant. Crim.

Marshall Warren Krause, Krause, Baskin, Grant & Ballentine, Larkspur, and Joseph Baxter, Santa Rosa, under appointments by the Supreme Court, for defendant and appellant.

John K. Van de Kamp and Daniel E. Lungren, Attys. Gen., Steve White and Richard B. Iglehart, Chief Asst. Attys. Gen., Harley D. Mayfield, Asst. Atty. Gen., Michael D. Wellington, Robert M. Foster and Louis R. Hanoian, Deputy Attys. Gen., for plaintiff and respondent.

GEORGE, Justice.

This case reaches us again after a retrial following this court's reversal of defendant's convictions. At the initial trial in 1980, a jury found defendant Rodney James Alcala guilty of first degree murder, with a kidnapping-murder special circumstance, and other related offenses. Following the jury's penalty-phase verdict, defendant was sentenced to death. In reversing defendant's convictions, this court concluded that the trial court committed prejudicial error at the guilt phase of the trial by admitting evidence of defendant's prior offenses. (People v. Alcala (1984) 36 Cal.3d 604, 629-636, 205 Cal.Rptr. 775, 685 P.2d 1126 [hereafter Alcala I ].) This court rejected defendant's contention that retrial was barred by the double jeopardy clause (id., at p. 614, 205 Cal.Rptr. 775, 685 P.2d 1126), holding that defendant could be retried on all counts.

At the ensuing retrial in 1986, the jury found defendant guilty of one count of first degree murder (Pen.Code, §§ 187, 189), 1 one count of kidnapping ( § 207), one count of false imprisonment ( § 236), and one count of use of a deadly weapon (a knife) ( § 12022, subd. (b)). The jury also found true the special circumstance of murder in the course of a kidnapping ( § 190.2, subd. (a)(17)(ii)). Defendant admitted an alleged prior felony conviction for lewd and lascivious conduct upon a child under the age of 14 years. ( §§ 288, 667.) At the penalty phase, the jury fixed the penalty at death, and thereafter the court imposed a sentence of death. 2

The case is before us again on automatic appeal. (Cal. Const., art. VI, § 11; § 1239, subd. (b).) For the reasons that follow, we conclude that the judgment should be affirmed in its entirety.

A. The prosecution's case
1. Overview

We begin with a brief summary of the prosecution's case, and then set forth a more detailed chronological account of the facts established by the evidence introduced in the prosecution's case-in-chief.

Approximately 3:10 p.m. on June 20, 1979, 12-year-old Robin Samsoe left the Huntington Beach apartment of her friend, Bridget Wilvert, also aged 12, to bicycle to a ballet lesson. Robin did not arrive at her ballet lesson and never again was seen alive by her family or friends. Five days later, on June 25, 1979, Dana Crappa, a forest service employee, discovered Robin's mutilated body more than 40 miles away, in a remote mountain ravine above Sierra Madre.

Crappa told no one of her discovery, however, and it was not until one week later, July 2, 1979, that another person, her colleague William Poepke, encountered Robin's remains. Poepke notified the police, who had learned that midafternoon on the day of Robin's disappearance, she and Bridget had been sitting on the cliffs above the beach in Huntington Beach. While there, they were approached by a man who stated he was taking photographs for a school contest. He asked whether he could photograph the girls. They agreed and posed for him. Jackelyn Young, an adult neighbor of Bridget, noticed the girls on the cliffs and walked toward them to investigate. Her approach startled the man taking the photographs. He departed quickly, more than once looking over his shoulder. Young later identified the man as defendant.

Young escorted Robin and Bridget to Bridget's apartment building and continued home. At the apartment, Robin asked Bridget whether she could borrow Bridget's bicycle in order to reach the dance studio on time. Robin left on the bicycle, but never reached the studio.

A police search for Robin commenced that evening. Bridget assisted a police artist in developing a composite drawing of the man who had photographed her and Robin. The drawing appeared in several Southern California newspapers, and was broadcast on television news shows.

The police investigation led officers to obtain warrants to arrest defendant and search his residence and his automobile. 3 On July 24, 1979, the police arrested defendant at his home in Monterey Park and conducted a residential search. During the search of defendant's home, the police found a Seattle, Washington, storage locker receipt which was dated subsequent to the day of Robin's disappearance. After obtaining additional warrants, law enforcement officials searched the locker. Among the items found were photographs of another girl, Lorraine Werts, taken at Sunset Beach the day Robin disappeared, and gold ball earrings that Robin's mother identified as ones she had seen Robin wearing.

Having described the broad outline of the prosecution's case, we now review, in chronological sequence, the prosecution's evidence of the events preceding and following Robin's disappearance and murder.

2. Defendant's activities at the beach, June 19-20, 1979

Fifteen-year-old Toni Esparza and fourteen-year-old Joanne Murchland spent much of June 19, 1979, on the beach near the Huntington Beach pier. A man they identified at trial as defendant approached the girls in a nearby parking lot, inquiring whether he could take their photographs. He told them he was entered in a "bikini of the month" photography contest. Both girls were wearing bikinis. The girls agreed, and defendant appeared to take five to ten photographs. Defendant said he had some "joints," and asked the girls whether they would like to go for a ride to get "loaded" as payment for posing for him. When the girls declined defendant's offer, he requested their telephone numbers in case he won the contest. The girls refused to give defendant their phone numbers and quickly walked away.

Teenagers Lorraine Werts and Patty Elmendorf went rollerskating at Sunset Beach, a few miles north of Huntington Beach, on the following day, June 20. A man asked them to stop so that he could take some photographs for a class contest. Patty refused. Lorraine, clad in a new bikini, allowed him to photograph her. Patty subsequently identified the man as defendant.

Richard Sillett, a City of Huntington Beach survey-party chief, told police officers that in the early to midafternoon of June 20, while he was on the beach below the cliffs, studying the alignment of a bicycle trail, he observed a man walking down the incline toward the ocean. Sillett, an amateur photographer who owned several cameras, habitually noticed the cameras used by others, and observed that the man carried a 35-millimeter camera with a telephoto lens. The two briefly made eye contact. Sillett later informed the authorities that the composite sketch closely resembled the man with the camera and, both at a photo lineup and at trial, identified defendant as the man he had observed at the beach.

Robin Samsoe and Bridget Wilvert arrived at Bridget's residence approximately 3:10 p.m., after posing for three photographs on the cliffs above the beach. Robin was anxious to reach the dance studio on time and was excited because she would be advancing to toe shoes that day. Bridget allowed Robin to borrow her bicycle, a yellow Schwinn 10-speed boy's bike with the handlebars turned up.

Robin was expected at Beverly Fleming's dance studio by 4 p.m. to answer the telephones; Robin's ballet class at the studio began one hour later. Robin never arrived at the studio. Approximately 5:15 p.m., Fleming telephoned Robin's home in an unsuccessful effort to locate her.

3. Defendant's activities in the mountains, June 20-21, 1979, and subsequent observations by forestry service personnel

In June 1979, Dana Crappa, 20 years of age, was employed as a seasonable firefighter for the United States Forestry Service, stationed at Chantry Flats. 4 While driving back to the Chantry Flats barracks in the late afternoon of June 20, Crappa noticed a blue Datsun F10 automobile parked on the uphill side of a sharp turnout at mile marker 11 on Santa Anita Canyon Road. She subsequently identified this vehicle as one later determined to be registered to defendant. A few feet in front of the automobile, a medium-built man with dark brown hair was "forcefully steering" or "pushing" a young girl with long blond hair, like Robin's, toward a dry stream bed. The man looked at Crappa as she slowly drove around the curve. Crappa testified the man resembled defendant, but she was "not 100% positive." The sight of the man and the girl appeared odd to Crappa, but she proceeded to the barracks without stopping.

On June 21, in the early evening, Crappa again was driving back to the barracks. At Rendezvous Turnout, approximately 1.6 miles from mile marker 11, she swerved her vehicle to avoid being hit by an automobile coming down the mountain. As she swerved, Crappa's vehicle nearly struck a blue Datsun F10 parked at the side of the road; it was the same vehicle she had observed the previous afternoon. 5 The rear tires and rear portion of the vehicle appeared to have had dirt "kicked up" on them. As she drove by, she glimpsed a dark-haired man near the blue Datsun F10, leaning against a rock wall. The man wore pants that may have had dirt on them, and a white T-shirt that "appeared to be sort of dirty or have a stain on it." Crappa believed something was wrong when she saw the same vehicle in such a remote area two weekdays in a row.

On June 25, approximately 7 p.m., Crappa parked her...

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