People v. Braxton

Decision Date04 November 2002
Docket NumberNo. A096083.,A096083.
Citation126 Cal.Rptr.2d 699,103 Cal.App.4th 471
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
PartiesThe PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Michael Glenn BRAXTON, Defendant and Appellant.

Bill Lockyer, Attorney General, Robert R. Anderson, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Ronald A. Bass, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Rene A. Chacon, Supervising Deputy Attorney General, Bruce Ortega, Deputy Attorney General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

Richard C. Neuhoff, San Francisco, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant.

JONES, P.J.

Michael Glenn Braxton appeals his conviction by jury verdict of attempted murder (Pen.Code, §§ 187/6641). The jury also found true the allegations that he personally and intentionally discharged a firearm in the commission of the attempted murder, which proximately caused great bodily injury to the victim. (§§ 12022.53, subd. (d), 12022.7, subd. (a).) Appellant contends the trial court erred in refusing his oral motion for new trial. He also asserts evidentiary and instructional error.

BACKGROUND

Since 1995 or 1996, appellant owned and lived in a mobile home which he parked in a lot rented from a Vacaville mobile home park. Gail Billa and her husband managed the park; Beatrice Bruno was the assistant manager.

In early 1997, Carol Prange and her teenage son, Adam, moved into the mobile home adjacent to appellant's. The relationship between appellant and Prange was strained. Prange claimed that appellant became upset about "stupid little things," such as her dog lying on his lawn or "something growing in his yard" about which she knew nothing; he threatened several times to shoot the dog if she did not keep it at her house.

Appellant claimed that Prange's dog was intimidating and roamed in his yard, occasionally preventing him from retrieving his mail. He also claimed that Adam Prange and his companions hung around Prange's house, drinking, smoking, and cursing, and threw debris into his yard. He once saw Adam Prange arrested for possession of a handgun. Appellant complained several times to the park managers about the Pranges' conduct, but he received no response to his complaints.

August 30, 1999 Shooting Incident

Prange was inside her house when she heard appellant yelling "hysterically" at Adam and Adam's friends, Brandy and Matt. When she went outside to see what was going on, appellant yelled obscenities at her. He eventually returned to his house, and Prange learned from Adam and his friends that appellant was angry because Matt had leaned his bicycle against appellant's fence.

Shortly after Prange returned to her house, she heard a gunshot. She ran outside and saw nothing. Adam and his friends told her the shot came from near appellant's house. Prange ran to assistant manager Bruno's house and told Bruno she thought appellant had fired a gun. At Bruno's direction, Prange called the police.

Officer Tim Garrido arrived within minutes and contacted appellant, who was calm and cooperative with him. Appellant told Garrido that several teenagers, including Adam, were riding their bicycles on his lawn; all complied with his request to stop except Adam, who remained on the lawn and stared at him. He told Garrido that the incident angered him, so he fired a gun into the ground of his own backyard to release his frustration. He also related his ongoing dispute with Prange about her dog.

Garrido noted a strong odor of alcohol on appellant's breath, but no signs of intoxication. Appellant permitted Garrido and another officer to search his house. They found two loaded handguns lying on a dresser; one had the odor of a recent firing. They arrested appellant and placed him in jail.2 When they informed him the guns would be confiscated, he replied he could easily obtain another one. He also told them he had shot at people in the past, would not hesitate to hurt people in the future, and as a teenager had a street nickname "the hit man." He was 50 years old in 1999.

September 12, 1999 Eviction

Because of appellant's arrest, the park's owner, managers, and attorney decided to evict him. On September 12, after his release from jail, he was served with a 60 day notice of eviction.

September 14, 1999 Shooting

Manager Gail Billa and assistant manager Bruno left the mobile home park office simultaneously, walking in separate directions to their houses. Bruno passed appellant, going the opposite direction. They did not acknowledge each other. Bruno and appellant had always had a cordial relationship, without any disputes. She knew about his eviction, but had not participated in the decision. A few seconds after passing Bruno, appellant called her name and she turned around. He reached in his belt, pulled out a gun, and pointed it at her head. He was standing approximately five feet from her. She told appellant, "Mike, I did nothing to you. Don't do it." Appellant did not reply. Bruno grabbed the gun and felt something "swish" past her head. Her feet got "tangled up" as she tried to run away, and she fell to the ground, hitting her head. Her next memory was of a neighbor praying by her side.

Billa had arrived home when she heard a loud noise. She looked outside to see appellant fire two shots. As the smoke cleared, she saw Bruno walking unsteadily toward her house. She then heard Bruno say, "No, Mike, don't," after which appellant fired at her chest, slamming her to the ground. He then fired two more shots at her.

Mobile home park resident Donna Stefani heard a cap gun sound outside her house and went to the window. She saw appellant holding a gun to Bruno's forehead, then lower the gun and shoot her in the abdomen. Stefani heard two or three more shots as she was going to the telephone to call "911." After making the call, she went outside to Bruno, who lay 10 to 15 feet from the spot where Stefani had first seen her.

Bruno was shot in the index finger of her right hand and three times in the chest. She suffered a cracked rib and bruised lung. She lost part of her liver; her finger does not bend properly; and she has difficulty breathing and holding long conversations.

Appellant was arrested within the hour of the shooting while driving west on Interstate 80. His blood alcohol level two hours after the shooting was 0.18 percent, and he had an odor of alcohol, but he did not manifest signs of intoxication, e.g., unsteady gait, slurred speech.

Defense

Appellant testified in his own defense. He has been an alcoholic for much of his life, occasionally suffering alcoholic blackouts. He can be violent when drunk. He has been in residential treatment centers for substance abuse several times. He is also a diabetic, but he stopped taking his new medication several days before the September 12 eviction because it upset his stomach.

The September 12 eviction notice shocked and angered appellant because he believed he had always been a good tenant. His financial circumstances were also precarious. He had lost his 13 year job at American Home Foods the previous December when the plant closed, his finances were low, and he did not know where he would go. He then began a drinking binge, during which he stopped eating. He seriously contemplated suicide and bought two guns and some bullets.

Sometime on September 14, appellant fixed the details of his suicide: he would drive to a familiar location in an Oakland park and shoot himself in the head. He put one of the guns in his waistband, got into his car, and drank until he departed.

As he was driving to an exit of the mobile home park, he saw Bruno walking home. He liked her and they had never had problems. He decided to ask her about the eviction, and then leave. He got out of his car and for no explicable reason he pointed his gun at her head. She grabbed his gun, a shot rang out, and he blacked out. He next remembered getting back in his car, departing for the Oakland park where he had planned to kill himself, and being stopped by the police, with whom he was cooperative. At trial he was extremely remorseful for his conduct toward Bruno. He did not know why he shot her, and denied having any intent to kill her.

Appellant's estranged wife testified that when he telephoned her on September 12 after receiving the eviction notice, he sounded drunk. He called again on the morning of September 14. Crying, he told her was preparing to kill himself, then hung up. She tried calling him several times afterwards, but received no answer. She recounted that he could be violent when drunk, a "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde."

Dr. Samuel Benson, a forensic psychiatrist, reviewed appellant's medical and police records and examined him five times. Dr. Benson diagnosed appellant as an alcoholic with a history of blackouts that indicated brain damage. He explained that during such blackouts a person, although ambulatory, is not conscious and loses impulse control. He opined that appellant had a blood-alcohol level of .21 to .23 percent when he shot Bruno and was highly intoxicated. Such a blood alcohol level can, but does not always, cause a blackout in a person with a blackout history. Dr. Benson also opined that on September 14 appellant was suffering from mental illness, including major depression; was under intense stress due to his loss of job, estrangement from his wife and son, fear of eviction and possible homelessness; and had an elevated blood-sugar level that would cause diminished thinking in almost any person.

Trial and Sentence

Appellant originally entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. He withdrew it following the presentation of evidence and before jury instructions. The jury found him guilty of attempted murder but found not true the allegation that the attempted murder was committed willfully, deliberately, and with premeditation. Following his conviction he was sentenced to a total prison term of 34 years to...

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