People v. Bell, S004260

Decision Date05 September 1989
Docket NumberNo. S004260,S004260
Citation49 Cal.3d 502,778 P.2d 129,262 Cal.Rptr. 1
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties, 778 P.2d 129 The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Ronald Lee BELL, Defendant and Appellant.
Harvey R. Zall, Frank O. Bell, Jr., State Public Defenders, Peter R. Silten, Philip M. Brooks, Deputy State Public Defenders, San Francisco, for defendant and appellant

John K. Van de Kamp, Atty. Gen., Steve White, Chief Asst. Atty. Gen., Herbert F. Wilkinson, Ronald S. Matthias, Martin S. Kaye and Eugene W. Kaster, Deputy Attys. Gen., San Francisco, for plaintiff and respondent.

[49 Cal.3d 513] EAGLESON, Justice.

Defendant and appellant, Ronald Lee Bell, was convicted by a jury in the Contra Costa County Superior Court of the first degree murder (Pen.Code, §§ 187, 189) 1 of Raymond Murphy; of attempt to murder John Benjamin (§§ 664, 187); and of robbery (§ 211). The jury also found that the murder had been committed under the special circumstance of murder during the commission of robbery (former § 190.2, subd. (c)(3)(i)); that defendant used a firearm in the commission each of those offenses (§ 12022.5); and that he inflicted great bodily injury in the commission of the attempted murder and robbery (§ 12022.7). Finally, the jury convicted defendant of possession of a concealable firearm by an ex-felon (§ 12021).

The offenses of which defendant was convicted occurred on February 2, 1978. Defendant was charged and convicted of murder with special circumstances under the 1977 death penalty law. (Stats.1977, ch. 316, §§ 4-14, pp. 1256-1262; former §§ 190-190.6.) Following a trial which commenced on October 26, 1978, a prior jury had convicted defendant of the section 12021 violation, but had been unable to reach a verdict on the other charges. The trial court granted defendant's motion for new trial on the firearm charge, and a second trial leading to the conviction on all counts commenced on December 11, 1978, before a new jury which rendered its guilt phase verdicts on December 21, 1978. 2 After a penalty trial commencing January 8, 1979, that jury rendered a penalty phase verdict of death on January 16, 1979.

The court denied defendant's motion for modification of the penalty (§ 190.4), and on March 2, 1979, imposed judgment sentencing defendant to death for the murder of Raymond Murphy, to a seven-year term for attempted murder of John Benjamin, with enhancements of two years for firearm use and three years for infliction of great bodily injury; and to a consecutive term of two and two-thirds years for the robbery. No term was imposed for the firearm-possession conviction, the court stating that the term was stayed permanently.

[49 Cal.3d 514] Defendant's appeal is automatic. (§ 1239, subd. (b).) In a prior opinion filed on December 3, 1987, this court affirmed the judgment in all respects. Rehearing was granted, however, when it appeared on consideration of defendant's petition for rehearing that the record on appeal submitted to this court by the Clerk of the Contra Costa County Superior Court differed in pagination, volume designation, and in minor respects in content from that in the possession of the People and defendant. As a result, this court's rejection of defendant's claim regarding the constitutional propriety of the procedure by which his jury had been selected may have rested on a faulty factual premise.

[778 P.2d 133] Pursuant to a stipulation by the parties that the record in possession of the Attorney General is complete and that copies of the volumes of reporters' transcripts included therein made by the clerk of this court shall be deemed the entirety of such transcripts in the original record on appeal, the record on appeal in this court has been supplemented with those copies.

Having reconsidered defendant's claims in light of the corrected record on appeal, we again affirm the judgment.



Raymond Murphy managed Wolff's Jewelry Store in Richmond. John Benjamin was employed in the store as a driver and helper. A watch repairman working in the rear of the store on February 2, 1978, heard two "bangs" that he thought were the sounds of a car backfiring, one about two seconds after the other, about 4 p.m. He completed the work he was doing and then went to the front of the store where he briefly glimpsed someone going out the door. He also saw a young girl in the store at that time. Raymond Murphy was lying on the floor behind the east counter, apparently dead. Benjamin was lying on the floor behind the west counter. A showcase of rings near Benjamin was in disarray, its sliding glass doors open.

An inventory following the robbery-murder revealed that property with a value in excess of $30,000 was missing. Among the missing items was a number of rings. The assistant general manager of the company which owned Wolff's Jewelry Store testified that Wolff's held the copyright on a "Love Story" ring, approximately 30 of which rings were in Wolff's stores in the Bay Area. At trial he identified one such ring which had a break in its shank to reduce its size, and on which the initials "L.B." had been engraved by an amateur, as a ring taken during the February 2, 1978, robbery. [49 Cal.3d 515] That ring had been found in the possession of Larry Bell following his arrest on an unrelated charge on February 9, 1982.

Raymond Murphy had been shot in the right side of the neck. The bullet severed the external jugular vein before striking the trachea, passing through the upper lobe of the left lung, and fracturing a rib. The gross injuries and hemorrhage, with apparent asphyxiation by blood in the respiratory tree, caused his death. Benjamin had been shot at close range with a .38-caliber weapon fired at a distance of no more than three feet. The slug removed from each victim had been fired from either a .38-caliber special or a .357-caliber magnum. Both could have been fired from a revolver, and although that taken from Murphy could have been fired from either a revolver or a semiautomatic handgun, the groove marks were consistent with a slug discharged from a .38-caliber Colt "Detective Special" with a two-inch barrel. Defendant's father, Richard Bell, testified that defendant's younger brother Larry had given him (Richard Bell) a .38-caliber handgun as collateral for a loan in December 1977. About a week later, defendant told his father that Larry had authorized him to reclaim the gun. Defendant paid his father $50, and had been given that gun, which his father had described to an investigator as a Colt with a two-inch barrel.

No physical evidence or fingerprints at the scene linked defendant to the crimes. He was identified as the killer, however, by an eyewitness to the shooting, Dorothy Dorton, age 13, who with her 14-year-old aunt Ruby Judge, had been in the store at the time of the robbery and murder. He was also identified by an adult, Ernestine Jackson, the sister of Ruby and aunt of Dorothy, who spoke to him as he walked by her parked car toward the jewelry store and, 15 minutes later, saw him walk away from the area in front of the store carrying a plastic bag she had not seen earlier.

Because the strategy of the defense was to attempt to establish that Larry Bell had committed the crimes, and that these eyewitnesses were biased with a motive for implicating defendant, we describe in some detail their testimony and relationships.

[778 P.2d 134] Ernestine Jackson had known both defendant and Larry Bell for at least 10 years. She attended junior high school and high school with defendant, and had also attended school with Larry. For some time she had lived only two and one-half blocks from the Bell home. She was able to distinguish the brothers. Larry was taller and had a lighter complexion than defendant. However, in recent years she had seen defendant only "a couple of times," and Larry "every now and then."

Ernestine had driven to Wolff's Jewelry Store about 4 p.m. on the day of the crimes to pick up a watch that was being repaired. Ruby, Dorothy, and [49 Cal.3d 516] four-year-old Alicia Carter, another niece, were with her in the car. She parked in a red zone close to the store and waited while Ruby went in to pick up the watch. As she waited she observed defendant approaching, opened her window, and greeted him, saying "How're you doing, Ronnie Bell." He asked who it was and when she said "Ernestine," greeted her, and continued walking toward the jewelry store. Ernestine then told Dorothy that defendant was the man who had killed Dorothy's father. Dorothy then said that she was going to get a good look at him and left the car.

When Ernestine later saw defendant leave the area of the store carrying what appeared to be a beige and white plastic bag, cross the street, and then run out of sight as he turned a corner, she herself went to the jewelry store where Dorothy told her that two men had been shot. Ernestine called the police from a store next door. She later identified a photo of defendant as the person she had spoken to prior to the robbery. She also identified him at trial.

Dorothy did not know defendant, but was aware and had discussed with family members the fact that he had killed her father when she was very young. She had no recollection of her father, remembering only the funeral.

Dorothy testified that she had entered Wolff's Jewelry Store because she saw that the man who had greeted Ernestine had not walked past the store and concluded that he was inside. Defendant was waiting to be helped. Ruby was being helped by a man who was writing out a receipt. Dorothy walked over to Ruby and told Ruby to ask defendant if his name was "Larry." Ruby did so. Defendant replied "no." When Ruby went to the back of the store to pay for the watch, defendant asked Benjamin to show him a ring, which defendant tried on and returned. Dorothy went to the rear to join Ruby, at which point defendan...

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