People v. Anderson

Decision Date28 June 2018
Docket NumberS138474
Citation420 P.3d 825,5 Cal.5th 372,235 Cal.Rptr.3d 1
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Eric ANDERSON, Defendant and Appellant.

Joanna McKim, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for Defendant and Appellant.

Kamala D. Harris and Xavier Becerra, Attorneys General, Julie L. Garland, Assistant Attorney General, Holly D. Wilkens, Theodore M. Cropley and Michael T. Murphy, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

CHIN, J.

A jury convicted defendant, Eric Anderson, of the first degree murder of Stephen Brucker under the special circumstances of murder in the commission or attempted commission of robbery and burglary. It also convicted him of conspiracy to commit robbery and burglary and two counts of residential burglary. It found defendant personally discharged a firearm during the commission of the murder and conspiracy. After defendant waived a jury, the court convicted him of being a felon in possession of a firearm. It also found true that he had suffered two prior serious felony convictions and a third strike conviction, and that he had served one prior prison term. After a penalty trial, the jury returned a verdict of death. The court denied the automatic motion to modify the verdict and imposed a judgment of death. It also imposed a prison sentence on the other counts and enhancement allegations. This appeal is automatic.

We modify the judgment by striking a one-year enhancement the trial court imposed for the prior prison term and, as modified, affirm the judgment.

I. THE FACTS
A. Guilt Phase
1. Overview

Defendant and others conspired to commit burglary and robbery at the home of Stephen Brucker. On April 14, 2003, when the conspirators arrived at the home, Brucker confronted them at the door. Defendant shot Brucker in the chest, mortally wounding him, after which the conspirators fled. Previously, defendant had committed two other residential burglaries.1

2. Prosecution Evidence
a. The Completed Burglaries

On January 8, 2003, the home of Arlene Bell in La Mesa was burglarized. The home was ransacked, and many items were taken, including a carved jewelry box with a "Made in Poland" label and some silver coins. Police later found the jewelry box and silver coins in defendant’s residence in Poway. The items were found in the bedroom of defendant’s housemate, James Stevens, to which defendant had access. Inside the jewelry box were credit cards in defendant’s name. Later, a cell phone not belonging to the Bell family was discovered in their house. It had apparently fallen under a load of firewood. Defendant was the subscriber of the cell phone’s telephone number.

On April 9, 2003, the home of John and Pamela Dolan in Alpine was burglarized. The home was ransacked, and various items were missing, including a .22-caliber handgun and a ring containing the inscription "Jenny." Defendant later gave the ring to his girlfriend’s mother, who turned it over to law enforcement. The stolen handgun was found under the seat of the Ford truck defendant was driving when he was arrested in Oregon on May 16, 2003.

Matthew Hansen, a San Diego police officer, lived across the street from the Dolan home. The day of the burglary, he heard a Ford Bronco that was "kind of loud" drive down the Dolan driveway. When the Bronco emerged from the driveway, Hansen paid particular attention. He "could distinctly hear it because it was loud sounding leaving his driveway." The next day, while driving in the area, Hansen observed the same Bronco, with the same loud sound. It "sound[ed] like there was some sort of exhaust problem on the vehicle." Defendant was the driver. Hansen wrote down the Bronco’s license number. The vehicle had been purchased by, and was registered to, defendant. Police sometimes saw it at defendant’s residence.

b. The Brucker Crimes

Stephen Brucker lived with his family in an unincorporated area of El Cajon. Randy Lee was familiar with the Brucker home and knew that the family had a safe. Zachary Paulson, Brandon Handshoe, and Valerie Peretti (Apollo Huhn’s girlfriend, who was 15 years old and pregnant in April 2003) all testified that, at various times beginning in 2002, Lee suggested to Handshoe and Huhn that they burglarize the Brucker house and steal the safe, which, Lee said, contained $1 million (according to Paulson) or $2 million (according to Peretti).

In early April 2003, defendant, Handshoe, and Huhn gathered at Handshoe’s mobilehome in the Rios Canyon area of El Cajon and discussed burglarizing the Brucker home to steal the safe. Paulson testified he was present at the mobilehome in the first week in April when they discussed a robbery. Huhn said he could "get into the safe." Defendant said that "he could hold the guy hostage" and would "pistol whip him" if necessary. Handshoe said he would "watch out."

Peretti testified that on April 14, 2003, she went to Handshoe’s mobilehome around 12:30 p.m. Defendant, Huhn, and Handshoe were present. She sensed that the others did not want her to be there. But then Handshoe told defendant that it was "okay" because she was Huhn’s girlfriend. Handshoe told her they were going to rob someone. She observed defendant "messing with some guns." She also saw him with a bag containing "disguises." He had some kind of a "hair piece" that was "salt and pepper" colored, and thick glasses. The three talked "about how they were going to do this." Defendant asked for a piece of paper, then started drawing what Peretti described as "diagrams ... of the house and how he was going to do it." Defendant did most of the talking. Defendant "said how they were going to go and do it, and what cars were supposed to be there, and how the doorway or something was set up." He told Handshoe "that he was going to stand over him while Brandon [i.e., Handshoe] could go in and get the safe or whatever he wanted to do." Defendant told Huhn to "keep watch." Peretti testified that defendant "seemed like he had done this before," but Handshoe and Huhn were nervous and scared.

Defendant, Huhn, and Handshoe left the mobilehome in defendant’s Bronco, with defendant driving. Before they left, defendant pulled out a semiautomatic firearm from his waistband, cocked it, said, " ‘Let’s do this fast,’ " then put the gun back in his waistband. He provided gloves to Handshoe and Apollo from his bag. Handshoe also had a firearm. They were gone for about half an hour. Huhn returned first, appearing scared and upset. Handshoe returned later.

Peretti admitted that when she first talked to her father and the police about the crime, she did not tell them that Huhn had gone with the others. She said she did not tell them about Huhn’s involvement "[b]ecause I loved him. He’s my kid’s father." She received immunity for her testimony.

Handshoe testified that on April 14, 2003, he was at his mobilehome with Peretti, Huhn, and defendant. Defendant had a black .45-caliber firearm, and he was "jacking rounds out of it." At one point, Handshoe gave defendant a piece of paper on which defendant drew a map. Defendant said something to the effect of, "We’re going to do this right." Defendant supplied Handshoe with a gun, which Handshoe kept in his pocket and did not use.

Defendant, Huhn, and Handshoe then went to the Brucker home to burglarize it. Defendant drove the three of them in his Bronco. When they arrived, Handshoe remained in the car on the driveway acting as a "lookout." He had a walkie-talkie that defendant had supplied. Defendant, his firearm tucked under his arm, and Huhn walked towards the front door and out of Handshoe’s line of vision. Defendant was wearing what Handshoe said was a "disguise"—a baseball cap and a wig. They were gone at most two minutes. Then Handshoe heard a gunshot followed by a scream. Defendant and Huhn ran back to the car and they "took off," with defendant driving. Defendant "said something along the lines of things went wrong and he shot the guy."

While they were driving, Handshoe asked to get out of the car. Defendant dropped him off, telling Handshoe that "if we were to say anything, we would be next." Handshoe went to a friend’s house then returned to his home. Peretti and Huhn were there when he returned.

After being shot, Brucker called 911. He told the dispatcher that two White males knocked on the door, and then one of them shot him in the heart. San Diego County Deputy Sheriff Karl Miller was the first law enforcement officer to respond. The front door of the Brucker house was open but the screen door was closed. Deputy Miller heard someone inside say, " ‘I’m in here.’ " He went inside and observed Brucker on the telephone. Brucker had blood "all down to his waist area." He was conscious but in a lot of pain.

Deputy Miller asked what happened. Brucker responded that he had heard somebody at the front door. He went to the door and saw two men standing there. Brucker "told them to leave the property or, in his words, ‘Get the fuck off my property.’ " After the men said something in reply, Brucker repeated to them what he had said. Then, Brucker reported, one of the men said, "Fuck you," and shot him in the chest. He described the shooter as White, in his "30’s," with a "salt-and-pepper beard," and wearing a black and white baseball cap. Of the other man, Brucker said only that he was "a 20 year old." (Defendant was 29 years old at the time, Huhn was 22.)

Brucker was rushed to the hospital but soon died of a single gunshot wound to his torso. A .45-caliber shell casing was found near the front door of the house.

Several witnesses who lived in the area testified that around the time of the shooting, they observed a Bronco generally described as similar to defendant’s either emerging from the Brucker house or nearby. One witness said the vehicle was going fast, and the driver was wearing a "ball cap." Another witness said the vehicle went "zooming" by, and it was "very loud." Another witness said the vehicle had a loud and distinctive sound. One...

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