People v. Beeler, S010164

Decision Date10 April 1995
Docket NumberNo. S010164,S010164
Citation9 Cal.4th 953,891 P.2d 153,39 Cal.Rptr.2d 607
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties, 891 P.2d 153 The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Rodney Gene BEELER, Defendant and Appellant.

Pierce O'Donnell, under appointment by the Supreme Court, Kenneth A. Freeling, Clara A. Pope, John Schaeffer, Steve Rottman, Wilmer Harris and Kaye, Scholer, Fierman, Hays & Handler, Los Angeles, for defendant and appellant.

Daniel E. Lungren, Atty. Gen., George Williamson, Chief Asst. Atty. Gen., Gary W. Schons, Asst. Atty. Gen., Keith I. Motley and Patti W. Ranger, Deputy Attys. Gen., for plaintiff and respondent.


Defendant Rodney Gene Beeler was convicted of one count of first degree murder (Pen.Code, § 187) and one count of burglary (Pen.Code, § 459) committed with the personal use of a firearm (Pen.Code, § 12022.5). The jury found to be true the special circumstance that the murder was committed during a burglary. (Pen.Code, § 190.2, subd. (a)(17)(vii).) The jury returned a verdict of death. This appeal is automatic. (Pen.Code, § 1239, subd. (b).) We affirm the judgment in its entirety.

1. The Prosecution

The prosecution's theory of the case was that defendant entered the unoccupied residence of Anthony Joseph Stevenson (Tony) to commit a burglary, that Tony returned home and discovered defendant, and that, as Tony fled the house, defendant shot him. The key prosecution evidence was as follows:

Shortly before 11 a.m. on December 30, 1985, Tony was found lying on a lawn near the house where he resided with his brothers Dino Stevenson Dino) and Michael Stevenson (Michael) in the City of Orange. Tony had been shot in the back. Police and The house's rear sliding-glass door had been pried open with a screwdriver. The house, including the brothers' bedrooms, had been ransacked. Bullets for Tony's .22-caliber semi-automatic Marlin rifle were strewn across his bed. The rifle was shattered on the hallway floor. Michael's bedroom door had a large gash that was attributed to the butt of Tony's rifle.

paramedics[891 P.2d 160] were called to the scene. Tony died on the lawn.

Missing from the house were jewelry (including a gold chain and an Italian gold charm), a 35-millimeter camera, $1,200 in cash, a dark blue gym bag, and Dino's fake Rolex watch. Also taken was Michael's .22-caliber single-action Ruger revolver, which he had kept unloaded under his bed with two bullets nearby.

A fingerprint identified as being defendant's was found on the top of a metal file cabinet in the southwest bedroom.

An autopsy showed that Tony died from a single gunshot wound--a .22-caliber long-rifle bullet that entered the left side of his back at an upward 45-degree angle, struck his left lung, and pierced his heart. There was no exit wound. The muzzle was more than two feet away from Tony when the shot was fired. The bullet was not fired from Tony's .22-caliber rifle but could have been fired from a .22-caliber single-action Ruger revolver similar to the one taken from Michael's bedroom. (That gun was never recovered.)

Police found a bullet hole in a car parked on the street in front of the Stevenson house. The car's owner testified she had parked the car at that location about 9:30 the morning of the killing. Ballistics tests showed the bullet was consistent with a .22-caliber long-rifle projectile, but police could make no further conclusions as to the nature or source of the bullet because of extensive damage to it caused by passing through the car door. In particular, they could not determine whether it had been fired from either Michael's revolver or Tony's rifle.

The front, main door of the Stevenson house was open, but the screen door was closed. The screen door had what appeared to be a small bullet hole, although no gun powder residue was found on the screen. Police ran a string from the hole in the screen door to the bullet hole in the car door and concluded that the bullet found in the car could have been fired from inside the house through the screen door into the car.

The homicide investigator conducting the string experiment found on the "very well taken care of and landscaped and trimmed" front lawn of the Stevenson residence an indentation, "a rounded portion where it appeared something had fallen down, possibly a knee, right into the lawn underneath the string. And then right next to the indentation, the rounded portion, there was a disturbance where the grass had actually been pulled up." (Italics added.) The implication was that Tony had been shot from inside the house as he was running across the yard trying to escape from a burglar.

Tony and his brothers resided at 1144 Everett Street. Floyd Raney resided at 1104 Everett Street. About the time of the killing, Raney was in his garage, with the door open, when he heard a motor running. He went into his driveway and saw a pickup truck parked directly across the street. Defendant approached Raney's garage. He wore pale blue jeans and what appeared to be a solid blue shirt. Defendant asked Raney, "My cat jumped the wall in your backyard. Would you look back there, please, and see if my cat is back there?" Raney stepped into his backyard to look for the cat, but when he returned to the garage, defendant "was takin' off across the street in the truck." At trial, Raney identified a photograph of defendant's truck as being similar to the truck Raney saw that day.

Everett Street runs east to west. The parallel street immediately to the south is East Rose Avenue. A block wall, about six feet high, runs between the backyards of the houses on the south side of Everett and those on the north side of East Rose. Lavada Hoskins resided at 1115 East Rose. The common wall ran along the rear edge of her backyard. The morning of the killing, Mrs. Hoskins was in her backyard, talking to her next door neighbor, Mrs. Fern Awalt. Both women saw a man walking along the top of Neither Hoskins, Awalt, nor Raney saw any other unknown persons in the area at the approximate time of the killing.

[891 P.2d 161] the block wall. Mrs. Awalt recalled the time as being between about 10:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Neither woman saw the man's face, but Mrs. Hoskins recalled him wearing a blue plaid shirt and carrying a small, dark sports bag. Mrs. Awalt did not see a bag, but she recalled the man was wearing work pants and a shirt that were solid blue. Mrs. Awalt required eyeglasses to read and was not wearing her glasses when she saw the man on the wall.

Defendant worked at a laminated products company (the company) as a senior line operator. Jim Anderson also worked at the company and reported to defendant. Anderson recalled that defendant left work early the day of the killing, about 10 a.m., and did not return until the afternoon.

Calvin Brunsting, the company's manager in charge of time cards, testified that defendant's card for December 30, 1985, indicated that he clocked into work that day at approximately 5:45 a.m. Sometime after December 30, 1985, defendant asked Brunsting to write on defendant's card the time he left on December 30 and the time he came to work the following day. Defendant said he had forgotten to punch the clock for those times. Brunsting complied with defendant's request and indicated on defendant's card for December 30 that he left work at 3:40 p.m.

John Lorenzi worked with defendant. Lorenzi testified that, one day between Christmas and New Year's Eve 1985, defendant said to him at work, "John, let me ask you a hypothetical question. If I was--if you were robbing somebody's house, someone who lived there caught you in the act, would you shoot him?" Lorenzi replied, "Why? Did you kill somebody?" Defendant became upset and responded, "No, asshole."

Defendant later had a similar exchange with co-worker Jim Anderson, asking him, "Hypothetically speaking, if you were robbing a house and the guy came home--the guy that lived there, this is, came home and you had a gun, would you shoot him?" Anderson replied, "No, I wouldn't. I wouldn't put myself in that position to begin with. Why, did you do something, did you kill somebody?" Defendant denied having done so and walked away.

Sometime after January 1, 1986, defendant attempted to sell Dino Stevenson's watch to Anderson for $500. On January 7, 1986, defendant sold to an acquaintance the Italian gold charm taken from the Stevensons' house. Defendant's employer provided lockers for its workers. Police found in defendant's locker the camera and lens taken from the house.

2. The Defense

The primary defense theory was that defendant's employment supervisor, Mitchell Jackley, participated in the burglary and was the actual killer. Jackley was granted immunity in exchange for testifying for the prosecution at defendant's preliminary hearing. At trial, the defense called him to testify. Jackley denied killing Tony Stevenson. Defendant attacked Jackley on two basic fronts: (1) Jackley's intimate knowledge of the crime details suggested he may have been the killer; (2) Jackley had been charged with a similar crime several years earlier, but after he testified for the prosecution in that case, charges were dismissed.

A. Jackley's knowledge

Jackley testified he had breakfast with defendant the day of the killing and afterward authorized defendant to leave work. Later in the day, defendant allegedly told Jackley that defendant had entered the Stevenson house and killed Tony Stevenson. Sometime thereafter, Jackley stole the key to defendant's work locker, observed a camera, and handled it with silk gloves so that he would not leave fingerprints on it.

On January 9, 1986, Jackley anonymously called police and implicated defendant in the Stevenson killing. Jackley claimed he called anonymously because he was concerned he might be implicated in the crime for two reasons. First, Jackley had been in the victim's house on at least one social...

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