People v. Baker

Decision Date01 February 2021
Docket NumberS170280
Citation10 Cal.5th 1044,274 Cal.Rptr.3d 655,480 P.3d 49
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Paul Wesley BAKER, Defendant and Appellant.

John F. Schuck, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for Defendant and Appellant.

Kamala D. Harris and Xavier Becerra, Attorneys General, Gerald A. Engler and Lance E. Winters, Chief Assistant Attorneys General, Susan Sullivan Pithey, Assistant Attorney General, Joseph P. Lee, Scott A. Taryle and E. Carlos Dominguez, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

Opinion of the Court by Cantil-Sakauye, C.J.

Judy Palmer told a friend that she was afraid of defendant Paul Wesley Baker and that "if anything happened to her," "he did it." Within a few weeks, Palmer disappeared. Her body was found in the desert several weeks later, severely decomposed. A jury convicted defendant of first degree murder, among several other offenses. The jury also found true two special circumstance allegations — rape and burglary — and returned a verdict of death at the close of the penalty phase. This appeal is automatic. Aside from correcting an error in the abstract of judgment, we affirm.

A. Guilt Phase

This case involves three sets of charged offenses. The first concerns Judy Palmer. A jury convicted defendant of first degree murder (count 1); forcible rape (count 2); first degree residential burglary (count 3); grand theft auto (count 4), regarding a Ford Escort that Palmer's son provided for her use; unlawful driving or taking of a vehicle (count 5), regarding the same automobile; and unlawful driving or taking of a vehicle (count 14), regarding a Ford Ranger loaned to Palmer by her employer after the Escort disappeared. ( Pen. Code, §§ 187, subd. (a) [murder], 261, subd. (a)(2) [rape], 459–460 [burglary], 487, subd. (d)(1) [grand theft]; Veh. Code, § 10841, subd. (a) [unlawful driving or taking].) The jury found defendant not guilty of sexual penetration by foreign object (count 15). ( Pen. Code, § 289, subd. (a)(1).) In connection with the murder, the jury found true two special circumstance allegations (rape and burglary) and found not true one additional special circumstance allegation (sexual penetration by foreign object). (Id. , § 190, subd. (a)(17)(C) [rape], (a)(17)(G) [burglary], (a)(17)(K) [foreign object].) The jury also found that the rape (count 2) was committed during a residential burglary and found true a multiple victim allegation. (Id. , § 667.61.)

The second set of charged offenses concerns crimes that the jury found defendant committed against women other than Palmer: forcible rape (count 6) and sodomy by use of force (counts 7 and 16) regarding Kathleen S.; and sodomy by use of force (count 10) regarding Lorna T. ( Pen. Code, §§ 261, subd. (a)(2) [rape], 286, subd. (c)(2) [sodomy].) The jury found true a multiple victim allegation in connection with each of these offenses. (Id. , § 667.61.) The jury also found true a great bodily injury allegation in connection with the rape offense (count 6) and one sodomy offense (count 7) concerning Kathleen S.

The third and final set of charged offenses concerns crimes, regarding women other than Palmer, of which defendant was acquitted. The trial court entered a judgment of acquittal regarding the alleged forcible rape of Monica H. (count 12) after she did not appear to testify. (See Pen. Code, § 1118.1.) The jury acquitted defendant of two counts of sodomy by force (counts 9 and 13) regarding Laura M. and one count of forcible rape (count 11) regarding Susanne K. The operative charging document did not include a count 8.

1. Prosecution case
a. Relationship between Palmer and defendant

Judy Palmer was a sixty-year-old grandmother at the time of her disappearance on April 17, 2004. She was an active participant in Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.), sober for nearly 28 years, and "dedicated a large amount of her time to helping" others in the program.

Palmer met defendant through A.A. He was roughly 17 years her junior and very strong. Testimony suggested that the pair became friends around 2000, began dating no sooner than 2001, and started living together in Palmer's apartment no later than 2002. The relationship was on-again, off-again. It appears Palmer and defendant separated at some point in 2003 and reconciled by early 2004.

Defendant worked as a handyperson to earn a living. In early 2004, Palmer's son Robert hired defendant to perform work in Robert's home, at defendant and Palmer's request. Defendant was dissatisfied with the compensation he received and told Robert "he could really hurt my mom."

On March 11, 2004, there was an incident at a storage facility. Palmer and defendant shared a storage unit beginning around September 2003. A manager at the facility saw defendant there several times without Palmer; the manager recalled him having visited "pretty much every day" since the unit had been rented, often with his dog. At some unspecified time before March 11, defendant appeared without the dog, and the manager inquired about it. The manager testified that defendant said, " [s]he's got it and if I ever want the dog back, I'll probably have to kill her to get it.’ " The manager understood defendant to be referring to Palmer.

Palmer appeared at the storage facility in person to make a payment on March 11. Initially, defendant did not seem to be with her. The manager told her that defendant " ‘made a remark that if he wanted [the dog] back, he would have to kill you for it.’ " The manager testified that Palmer looked at her and started shaking. Defendant appeared immediately after the manager's comment. The manager told him she thought his comment about the dog referred to Palmer. Defendant grabbed Palmer "and just kind of pinched her real hard"; the manager related that Palmer "kept looking at me real scared."

Palmer's birthday was around that time. Her daughter Tammy hosted a birthday party on approximately March 11 or 12. Palmer was sitting at a table. Defendant came up behind her and laid his forearm and fist in front of her. She flinched. According to Tammy, defendant said, " ‘I know you want to marry me.’ And [Palmer] said, ‘the hell I do.’ " Defendant, laughing, asked, " ‘Why don't you tell her what I gave you for your birthday?’ " When Palmer did not reply, he added, " ‘Come on. Come on. Tell her what I gave you. It's pretty and it's pink.’ " Defendant continued laughing. Palmer sat silently, then retreated to the bathroom, crying. Other evidence adduced at trial supported an inference that the pink item to which defendant referred was a vibrator relevant to the sexual penetration by foreign object count and special circumstance allegation. Palmer had told Tammy years earlier that sex toys "grossed her out" and "demeaned the act of making love."

Within a few days of the party, Palmer told Tammy that she (Palmer) and defendant were having problems and that she did not want him in her apartment anymore. Tammy's understanding was that defendant moved out some time during the week following the party and "was out on the street."

Palmer's relationship with defendant had ended by early April 2004. On April 3 — two weeks before Palmer disappeared — defendant called Tammy's home landline telephone. Tammy described him as "very frantic to speak to" Palmer. Although Palmer was present, Tammy refused. Tammy and Palmer had previously discussed Palmer "trying very hard not to see" defendant; he had been calling Palmer and "showing up at places," including Palmer's home. After Tammy hung up the landline, her cell phone rang. It was defendant, again. She refused to let him speak with Palmer, again. Palmer nodded, suggesting agreement with the refusal. At some point, Palmer remarked, "I wish the asshole would leave me alone" — the kind of language Tammy said Palmer used only when "very angry."

On April 5, defendant was arrested in Palmer's apartment and taken into custody. Palmer's hearsay statement, admitted only as relevant to the state of mind of the testifying officer, indicated that defendant had forced himself into her apartment; other hearsay, admitted without at least contemporaneous limitation, was to similar effect. Trial testimony indicated that officers responded at around 10:00 p.m. that night to a call regarding a domestic disturbance. After they entered Palmer's apartment, defendant removed a narcotics pipe from a pocket of his shorts. He was arrested for possession of that paraphernalia. Officers also recovered a set of keys to Palmer's apartment from his underwear. Two days after the incident, on April 7, defendant was served with a restraining order restricting his contact with Palmer. At some point around this time, roughly between April 3 and April 10, Palmer told a friend "that she was afraid of him and that if anything happened to her that — to look at him, that he did it."

b. Events preceding Palmer's disappearance

Defendant was released from custody shortly after 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday, April 14, 2004. A Ford Escort that Palmer's son Robert provided for her use went missing by the next day. That vehicle is the one at issue in counts 4 (grand theft auto) and 5 (unlawful driving or taking).

Palmer called her boss on Thursday, April 15, and informed him that she lacked transportation to work. Her boss loaned her a white 2002 Ford Ranger pickup truck used by the company that employed them. That truck is the vehicle at issue in count 14 (unlawful driving or taking). At the time the truck was loaned to Palmer, it had a metal toolbox with "a diamond-plate type finish." Palmer decided to park it away from her regular parking spot, fearing that defendant, whom she believed had stolen the Escort, would steal the Ranger as well.

That same day, around 10:00 or 10:30 a.m., defendant called his acquaintance Daniel Mengoni. Mengoni and defendant had used substances together "[a] dozen" times, "maybe more," including cocaine and alcohol. Defendant informed Mengoni...

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2 books & journal articles
  • Chapter 4 - §3. Character evidence offered to prove propensity
    • United States
    • Full Court Press California Guide to Criminal Evidence Chapter 4 Statutory Limits on Particular Evidence
    • Invalid date
    ...evidence is particularly compelling if the victim of the charged offense was killed and therefore cannot testify. People v. Baker (2021) 10 Cal.5th 1044, 1099-1100; Daveggio, 4 Cal.5th at 823-24. (a) Probative value. When conducting an Evid. C. §352 balancing test, the court must consider t......
  • Table of Cases null
    • United States
    • Full Court Press California Guide to Criminal Evidence Table of Cases
    • Invalid date
    ...635, 895 P.2d 877 (1995)—Ch. 3-B, §12.3.1(1)(b); Ch. 4-C, §3.5.2(1); §9.1.2(1)(b); Ch. 5-B, §3.3; §4.2.1(1); D, §4.2.2 People v. Baker, 10 Cal. 5th 1044, 274 Cal. Rptr. 3d 655 (2021)—Ch. 4-A, §3.4.1(5); §3.4.1(5)(a)[3]; §3.4.1(5) (b)[2]; §3.5.1(2); Ch. 6, §2.2.2(2) People v. Baker, 204 Cal.......

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