People v. Carter

Citation32 Cal.Rptr.3d 759,117 P.3d 476
Decision Date15 August 2005
Docket NumberNo. S014021.,S014021.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
PartiesThe PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Dean Phillip CARTER, Defendant and Appellant.

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117 P.3d 476
32 Cal.Rptr.3d 759
The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
Dean Phillip CARTER, Defendant and Appellant.
No. S014021.
Supreme Court of California.
August 15, 2005.

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Phillip H. Cherney, Visalia, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for Defendant and Appellant.

Bill Lockyer, Attorney General, David P. Druliner, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Gary W. Schons, Assistant Attorney General, William M. Wood, Carl H. Horst and Jeffrey J. Koch, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.


Following the guilt phase of the trial, a Los Angeles County jury found defendant Dean Phillip Carter guilty of the forcible rape (Pen.Code, § 261)1 and first degree murder of Jillette Mills (§§ 187, subd. (a), 189), and found true the special circumstances that the murder was committed in the course of a forcible rape and in the course of a first or second degree burglary (§ 460). (§ 190.2, subd. (a)(17), subparts (C), (G).)

The jury also found defendant guilty of the first degree murder of Susan Knoll (§§ 187, subd. (a), 189) and of residential burglary (§ 459), and found true the special circumstance that the murder was committed during the commission of a burglary. (§ 190.2, subd. (a)(17), subpart (G).)

The jury further found defendant guilty of the forcible rape (§ 261) and first degree murder of Bonnie Guthrie (§§ 187, subd. (a), 189) and of residential burglary (§ 459), and found true the special circumstances that the murder was committed in the course of a forcible rape and in the course of a burglary. (§ 190.2, subd. (a)(17), subparts (C), (G).)

In addition, the jury found true the special circumstance that defendant was convicted in the present proceeding of more than one offense of murder. (§ 190.2, subd. (a)(3).)

At the conclusion of the penalty phase, the jury returned a verdict of death. This appeal is automatic. (Cal. Const., art. VI, § 11; § 1239, subd. (b).)

We affirm the judgment in its entirety.


I. Guilt Phase Evidence

A. The Prosecution's Case

1. The Death of Tok Kim

The prosecution commenced its case by introducing, over defendant's objection, evidence that pertained to the death of Tok Kim, who was 42 years of age, in Alameda County in early April 1984. The evidence, summarized below, was introduced under Evidence Code section 1101, subdivision (b), for the purpose of demonstrating defendant's identity and criminal intent in the charged offenses relating to the murders of Jillette Mills, Susan Knoll, and Bonnie Guthrie on April 10 and 11, 1984.

In the early evening of Sunday, April 1, 1984, defendant entered the Rocking Horse Bar and Grill, located in Lafayette, California. The bartender, Nicole Didion, testified that business was slow that evening when defendant sat down at the bar, ordered a drink, and introduced himself to her as "Phil." He wore casual pants, which she believed were jeans, and a sweatshirt inscribed with the words "Tenakee Tavern — Southeast Alaska's Classiest Joint." He told Didion that he worked as a cameraman. Cocktail waitress Margo Fulton observed defendant sitting at the bar, and joined his conversation with Didion.

Approximately one-half hour later, Tok Kim entered the bar, sat down a few bar stools apart from defendant, and ordered a glass of white wine. She departed from the bar soon thereafter, only to return a few minutes later, declaring that she had been unable to start her Honda automobile. Defendant offered to assist her and left with her.

After a few minutes, defendant returned to the bar and asked whether anyone had "jumper cables." A restaurant employee obtained

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cables; the car thereafter was started, and defendant returned to the bar to gather his belongings. Defendant remarked to a cocktail waitress that he was getting a ride to the local BART station.

Approximately 9:00 p.m. the same evening, defendant and Kim walked into Jim Sutton's Lafayette Shell gasoline station and reported car trouble. David Hogan, an employee at the station, assisted the couple in bringing the disabled vehicle to the station. Because the alternator apparently was malfunctioning, the vehicle was left at the station overnight for repairs.

The next day, April 2, Kim and defendant returned to the Shell station. Hogan noticed that defendant wore a black "Members Only" jacket that "was in style back then," as well as mirrored sunglasses on top of his head. Hogan, observing that defendant's neck bore a "big — like a hickey on his neck," told defendant, "Well[, i]t looked like you had fun last night." Defendant replied: "I don't even know what I'm doing here, I don't even know her."

At approximately 11:00 p.m. on Tuesday, April 10 or Wednesday, April 11, Kim's neighbor, Connie Santos, heard Kim arguing with someone. Santos knew the voice of Kim's boyfriend, Ray Blevins, and testified that the person with whom Kim was arguing "was not [Blevins] definitely," but instead belonged to someone "`younger.'" Santos could not discern the precise words spoken, but recalled that the persons arguing sounded "really angry." Santos thought that perhaps she should call the police, but instead she went to bed, pulling the bed covers over her head in an effort to block the noise.

On Thursday, April 12, Kim failed to arrive at her job at the Concord Macy's department store. Her manager at Macy's, Ingrid Maleska-King, telephoned Kim's apartment manager, William Elson, to request that he ascertain whether she was at her apartment. Elson, who had observed defendant standing near Kim's apartment mailbox earlier that same week, did not find Kim at her apartment. Elson also observed that Kim's vehicle was not in its designated parking space or anywhere in the vicinity. When Kim did not appear for work on Friday, April 13, Maleska-King again contacted Elson and asked him to recheck whether Kim was at her apartment. As Elson approached the apartment on this second occasion, he "felt extinctively [sic] that she was in there because of the odor that I smelled." Elson found Kim's lifeless body sprawled upon the floor of her bedroom.

Oakland Police Detective Raymond Conner investigated Kim's death, arriving at her apartment on the morning of April 13. Beneath Kim's neck, he discovered a curtain tie approximately 18 to 24 inches in length.

Kim's body had decomposed to an extent that it precluded a determination of a cause of death. The pathologist who performed the autopsy, Thomas Rogers, testified over defendant's objection that the tie found beneath Kim's neck could have been used to fatally strangle her. On cross-examination, Rogers acknowledged that in view of the body's advanced state of decomposition, he could not eliminate the possibility that Kim might have died from natural causes.

2. The Deaths of Susan Knoll and Jillette Mills

Susan Knoll and her sister, Sandra Pender, grew up in Wisconsin. Knoll's best friend was Bonnie Guthrie. In 1972, Pender relocated to San Diego, and in 1979 Knoll journeyed west to live with her. Guthrie also relocated to the Los Angeles area at some point and resumed her close friendship with Knoll. In March 1984, Knoll moved into a Culver City apartment with Jillette Mills. Knoll and Mills each were 25 years of age.

On April 10, 1984, Knoll appeared at work at Mitsubishi Bank, according to Annette Cheng, Knoll's colleague. On April 11, Knoll was absent from work, and Cheng received a telephone call from a male who declined to identify himself. The caller informed Cheng that Knoll was "just involved in a traffic accident and she have some minor injury [sic] and would like to go to hospital for the checkup, but she asked me to call the bank to let the bank know that she won't be in today." Cheng asked the caller if he was a friend of Knoll's, and the caller replied: "No, I just happened to be in the accident scene

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and she asked me to call for her." When Cheng asked for the caller's name, he hung up the telephone. Cheng never saw Knoll alive again. On cross-examination, Cheng acknowledged that when she spoke to the caller, she believed he was a Black man with a southern accent.

For a few days prior to April 10, 1984, Jillette Mills's brother, Jeff, tried without success to contact Jillette. On April 11, 1984, Jeff and his friend, Christopher Thurman, began searching for her. Jeff and Christopher traveled to Jillette's Culver City apartment, to her place of employment (Laird Studios), and to a local community college where she had attended classes, but were unable to locate Jillette or her automobile, a distinctive white Datsun 280 ZX that bore the license plate "PHANTM Z."2 Jeff and Christopher thereafter returned to the apartment building, scaled a security fence, and approached the apartment. Jillette's apartment door was unlocked.

Upon searching much of the apartment without success, Jeff and Christopher encountered a framed piece of artwork leaning against the doors of a bedroom closet. Opening the closet doors, Christopher noticed "feet on the floor" and advised Jeff that "we have a problem." The fully-clothed bodies of Susan and Jillette were lying on the floor of the closet, one stacked upon the other. Jeff called the police, and Christopher went outside to await their arrival.

While Christopher waited by the curb, he leaned on the left front fender of a blue Honda that investigators subsequently determined belonged to Tok Kim. Inside the vehicle, investigators recovered a pair of sunglasses identified at trial by David Hogan, the Lafayette gasoline station attendant, as matching the pair he observed resting atop defendant's head.

Police investigators examined Jillette's apartment for...

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