People v. Battle

Citation280 Cal.Rptr.3d 337,11 Cal.5th 749,489 P.3d 329
Decision Date01 July 2021
Docket NumberS119296
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Parties The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Thomas Lee BATTLE, Defendant and Appellant.

11 Cal.5th 749
489 P.3d 329
280 Cal.Rptr.3d 337

The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
Thomas Lee BATTLE, Defendant and Appellant.


Supreme Court of California.

July 1, 2021

Michael J. Hersek and Mary K. McComb, State Public Defenders, under appointments by the Supreme Court, Nina Rivkind, Heidi Bjornson-Pennell and Elias Batchelder, Deputy State Public Defenders, for Defendant and Appellant.

Kamala D. Harris and Xavier Becerra, Attorneys General, Gerald A. Engler and Lance E. Winters, Chief Assistant Attorneys General, Julie L. Garland and James William Bilderback II, Assistant Attorneys General, Holly D. Wilkens, Eric A. Swenson and Michael Pulos, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

Opinion of the Court by Cuéllar, J.

Defendant Thomas Lee Battle was convicted of kidnapping and killing Shirley and Andrew Demko after burglarizing and robbing their home. The jury returned a death verdict, and the trial court sentenced Battle to death. This appeal is automatic. ( Pen. Code, § 1239, subd. (b).)1 Battle contends that the trial court made several errors during the guilt and penalty phases of his trial. We find no error and affirm the trial court judgment.


In November 2001, the San Bernardino District Attorney filed an information charging Battle with two counts of murder ( § 187, subd. (a) ), one count of first degree residential burglary ( § 459 ), one count of first degree residential robbery ( § 211 ), and two counts of kidnapping ( § 207 ). The information also alleged the following: All the offenses were serious felonies ( § 1192.7, subd. (c) ) and violent felonies ( § 667.5, subd. (c) ); during the commission and attempted commission of these offenses Battle personally used a knife, a deadly and dangerous weapon ( § 12022, subd. (b)(1) ), causing the offenses to be serious felonies ( § 1192.7, subd. (c)(23) ); in 1995 Battle suffered a prior conviction for burglary ( § 459 ), a serious or violent felony ( §§ 667, subd. (b), 1170.12 ); and in 1997 he suffered a prior conviction for forgery ( § 470 ) that resulted in a prison term ( § 667.5, subd. (b) ). The information also alleged the following special circumstances: Battle committed the murders during the commission of robbery, burglary, and kidnappings ( § 190.2, subd. (a)(17)(A), (G), (M) ); and Battle committed multiple murders ( § 190 ). The jury found

280 Cal.Rptr.3d 344

Battle guilty on all counts and found true all the special allegations and special circumstances. (The defense and prosecution agreed to stipulate that the prior offense allegations were true.) The jury returned a death verdict. The trial court sentenced Battle to death on the murder counts, to a determinate term for the remaining counts and accompanying enhancements (all of which were ordered to run consecutive to the sentence on the kidnapping count related to the kidnapping of Mr. Demko), and it ordered Battle to pay $10,000 in victim restitution.

A. Guilt Phase

1. The Prosecution's Case

The victims were Andrew Demko and Shirley Demko. They were 77 and 72 years old respectively at the time of their deaths. They had been married for 22 years. Both used a cane and walker; Andrew's hearing was almost gone. Andrew had two adult children from a previous marriage, Denise Goodman and Richard Demko. On or about November 14, 2000, the mailperson noticed that the Demkos had not collected the previous day's mail. As the week went on, mail continued to pile up uncollected. Because Thanksgiving was fast approaching and Denise had not heard from Andrew or Shirley, she tried to call them several times but received no response. She called the police to ask them to check on her parents. The police reported that the Demkos’ car wasn't there and that their dogs were locked in a room, but that everything looked fine. But her parents’ neighbor told her that day that he had noticed newspapers stacking up in the Demkos’ yard. Concerned, Denise called the police

489 P.3d 335

back and once again asked them for another check on her parents.

Meanwhile, on November 18, a man and his son were hunting in the San Bernardino desert when they found a man lying dead on the ground. Police officers with the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Office responded to the scene and, with the assistance of a highway patrol aircraft, they also found a dead woman about 200 yards away from the man. The bodies were later identified as Andrew and Shirley Demko. (One of the officers who was present at the desert heard radio traffic concerning the second welfare check at the Demko residence, and he thought there might be a connection between that and the bodies found. He then went to the residence, and he recognized a picture on the wall of Mr. Demko as the same man he had seen dead in the desert.)

Mr. Demko was found lying face up. He was wearing blue pajamas, a blue bathrobe, and a single blue slipper. There was blood on the chest area of his shirt. His other slipper was found nearby on disheveled ground that showed signs of scuffing and dragging. An autopsy revealed he died from strangulation and a stab wound to the neck. The stab wound was four and a half inches deep on the right side of the neck, and it was consistent with a wound from a single-edged knife. He had abrasions and bruising on his forehead, which were caused by blunt force, and on his chin and neck, which were caused by strangulation. He also had injuries to his hands, wrists, arms, knees, and feet. Some of these injuries were consistent with defensive wounds, some with his having been bound, and others with his having been dragged.

Mrs. Demko was found lying face down. She was also wearing pajamas, which had blood on them. Much of the upper half of her body had been eaten by wild animals, so only a small number of internal organs remained. The autopsy revealed that her cause of death was homicidal violence of undetermined etiology. Because significant portions of her body were missing, the

280 Cal.Rptr.3d 345

specific mechanism of death could not be determined. Her hands were duct-taped together, and they had signs of blunt-force trauma and cuts. Injuries to her feet and ankles were consistent with her having been restrained with bindings or zip ties. Police later found zip ties and bloodstained duct tape in the area.

After being contacted by the police, Denise and Richard accompanied officers to the Demkos’ home. The TV, VCR, and stereo speakers were missing. On the dining room table, they found a cup of coffee, a burned cigarette, reading glasses, and an open newspaper dated November 13. Denise explained that ever since she was a child, her father would wake up early each morning and read the paper while drinking coffee. Police also found six unwrapped Los Angeles Times newspapers (dated November 14-19) and one Desert Times newspaper (dated November 14) stacked in a corner of the dining room. In the kitchen trash can, police found two FedEx delivery slips. One was dated November 21 — three days after the Demkos’ bodies were found — which indicated that someone had been in the house after the murders. Finally, the Demkos’ car, a blue Mercury Sable, was still missing.

On the evening of November 25, police pulled over a woman driving the Demkos’ car. A later inspection of the car revealed blood stains on the inside of the trunk lid, as well as items including the Demkos’ credit cards and boxes of checks. The woman told police that she had borrowed the car from Battle, who was a close friend of her roommate, Jenica McCune, and who was at their apartment. According to McCune, she had not been in contact with Battle for about a year before he unexpectedly showed up to her apartment on around November 13, or perhaps November 15 or 16. She said he had a blue Ford Taurus (which an insurance agent testified looked like a Mercury Sable), and that he told her he had bought the car but had not yet registered it.

Police went to McCune's apartment and arrested Battle. Detectives Michael Gilliam and Derek Pacifico took Battle to the police station and interrogated him in the early morning hours of November 26. In total, Battle had four taped interviews with officers: two with Detectives Gilliam and Pacifico, on November 26 and the morning of November 27; a subsequent one with special investigator Robert Heard as part of a polygraph

489 P.3d 336

examination on November 27; and a final one on November 27, again with Detectives Gilliam and Pacifico. Battle was advised of and waived his Miranda rights at the beginning of the November 26 interview and again at the beginning of the first interview on November 27. Over the course of the four interviews, Battle told several different versions of events regarding his involvement in the Demkos’ murder. At trial, the officers testified about, and the prosecution played redacted audiotapes of, Battle's custodial statements. The recordings were admitted into evidence. The transcripts of the recordings the jury heard were given to the jury for reference and admitted into evidence with the understanding that they would be sent back to the jury room only if the jury requested them.

In the first interview, beginning at 1:13 a.m. on November 26, Detective Gilliam informed Battle that he wanted to talk about the car that Battle had lent to McCune's roommate. Battle said that his friend Neal2 had lent him the car when they ran into each other and Neal heard

280 Cal.Rptr.3d 346

that he had been laid off and didn't have transportation. Battle borrowed the car several times prior to being arrested. Neal apparently showed Battle some boxes in the car's trunk, which contained checks, credit cards, and ID cards with male and female names. He asked if Battle wanted to make some money, but Battle declined and explained he was trying to "fly straight." Battle knew Neal was doing "some real foul things." He also told officers that "Left Eye," a woman he had not known for very long, had asked him to store a TV and VCR for her while she...

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  • People v. Parker
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • May 19, 2022
    ...on relevance and the admission of evidence under Evidence Code sections 352 and 1101 for abuse of discretion." ( People v. Battle (2021) 11 Cal.5th 749, 799, 280 Cal.Rptr.3d 337, 489 P.3d 329.)293 Cal.Rptr.3d 855 Defendant argues that the trial court abused its discretion by admitting the s......
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    ...of the jury as finally constituted. People v. Battle is instructive by way of contrast. ( Battle , supra , 11 Cal.5th at p. 774, 280 Cal.Rptr.3d 337, 489 P.3d 329.) There, an African-American defendant was convicted by an all-White jury. His victims were White and mitigation evidence was of......
  • People v. Ramirez
    • United States
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    ...suggest that some reason other than ethnicity ultimately prompted the prosecutor to excuse T.D. and F.R. (See People v. Battle (2021) 11 Cal.5th 749, 777, 280 Cal.Rptr.3d 337, 489 P.3d 329 ( Battle ).)Between the peremptory challenges to C.A. and T.B., the prosecutor accepted a panel with t......
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    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • May 19, 2022
    ...on relevance and the admission of evidence under Evidence Code sections 352 and 1101 for abuse of discretion." ( People v. Battle (2021) 11 Cal.5th 749, 799, 280 Cal.Rptr.3d 337, 489 P.3d 329.)293 Cal.Rptr.3d 855 Defendant argues that the trial court abused its discretion by admitting the s......
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2 books & journal articles
  • Jury selection
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books California Objections
    • March 29, 2023
    ...The issue for the court is whether a particular prospective juror has been challenged because of group bias. People v. Battle (2021) 11 Cal. 5th 749, 773, 280 Cal. Rptr. 3d 337. Courts presume that a party exercises a peremptory challenge on a constitutional basis, and the burden is on the ......
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