People v. Claxton

Decision Date02 March 1982
Docket NumberCr. 4591
Citation181 Cal.Rptr. 281,129 Cal.App.3d 638
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
PartiesThe PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Frank Mike CLAXTON, Defendant and Appellant.

STONE, Associate Justice. *

Frank Mike Claxton appeals from a judgment entered on jury verdicts finding him guilty of murder and attempted robbery with personal use of a deadly or dangerous weapon in the commission of each offense and infliction of great bodily injury in the attempted robbery. The jury found the murder to be in the first degree and further found the murder to be willful, deliberate and premeditated and personally committed by the appellant during the attempted commission of a robbery. Because appellant was 17 years old at the time of the offense, he was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. Several issues in the appeal concern the penalty which must be set aside under People v. Davis (1981) 29 Cal.3d 814, 832, 176 Cal.Rptr. 521, 633 P.2d 186.

The major evidence against appellant was the testimony of one coconspirator, an extrajudicial statement of another, and statements made by appellant after his arrest as related by his cellmates and a juvenile hall employee. The principal issues on appeal concern the use and admissibility of these statements. Due to the seriousness of the offense, our analysis is rather detailed. We conclude that there was no miscarriage of justice in this case. (Cal.Const., art. VI, § 13.)


On February 25, 1978, Kern County Deputy Sheriff William Hackney discovered the body of 64-year-old Crittendon Mos. An autopsy disclosed that the cause of death was hemorrhage resulting from multiple stab wounds; Mos had been dead several days. Detective Del Ray was assigned to the investigation. On November 29, 1978, Ray, through a Bakersfield Police Department detective, contacted Pamela Allen, aged 17, and obtained a taped statement implicating an adult, Richard Byrne, and two minors, Kevin Harrington and appellant Frank Claxton, in the death of Mos. On that same date, Ray arrested the two minors.

Appellant was fully advised of his rights pursuant to Miranda v. Arizona (1966) 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 from a card that Ray carried for that purpose. Appellant stated he understood his rights and would talk to Detective Ray. He remembered that he had been arrested for having guns in the car around the time of the incident but denied any involvement in Mos' death.

The next day, Ray again interviewed appellant after first asking him if he recalled his constitutional rights. Appellant said he did recall his rights and that nothing had happened to change his mind about answering questions. He again denied any knowledge of the murder and told Detective Ray that he was wasting his time questioning him.

After a fitness hearing in juvenile court, appellant was certified to superior court for trial as an adult. By an information filed January 22, 1979, appellant and Kevin Harrington were charged with attempted robbery and murder of Crittendon Mos; appellant was further charged with special circumstances under the 1977 death penalty legislation (former Pen.Code, § 190.2, subd. (c)(3)(i)) and with enhancements for use of a knife and infliction of great bodily injury.

Pamela Allen was allowed to plead guilty to second degree murder in juvenile court for her participation in the Mos killing, and testified at appellant's trial in accordance with the plea agreement. The following scenario is distilled from the trial testimony of Allen.

In February 1978, Allen lived in Hilltop, California, a small community on Weedpatch Highway, with her mother Betty Schler, 15-year-old sister Laurie Lipp (Pritchard), her mother's boyfriend Richard Byrne, and two brothers. Allen's boyfriend Kevin Harrington lived there part-time. Allen knew appellant as a friend of Harrington's.

Sometime during the evening of February 22, 1978, Allen overheard a discussion at the Hilltop home between appellant, Harrington and Byrne about robbing Crittendon Mos. Later that evening, Allen, Lipp, Harrington, Byrne and appellant left the home, appellant in his Mustang, the others in Harrington's Chrysler. Appellant left his automobile in Edison, California, and they all proceeded in the Chrysler. Again the three males talked of robbing Crittendon Mos. It was decided that Allen would call Mos and complain of car trouble and when he came to pick up Lipp and her, the men would shoot and rob him. Each of the men was armed. In furtherance of this plan, Allen called Mos and asked him to come to Malaga Road. At Malaga Road, the men hid behind a dirt bank with their weapons. When Mos arrived, the girls decided they would not go through with the plan and left with Mos. A short time later, appellant picked up the girls at Mos' home and the three then picked up Harrington and Byrne and drove to an abandoned store. Again they discussed killing and robbing Mos. The plan was for appellant and Allen to go to Mos' home and gain entry. Appellant was then to stab Mos and if he were not dead, the others would come in to "finish him."

Appellant and Allen went to Mos' home in the Mustang. Byrne and Harrington followed in the Chrysler and waited nearby. Mos invited appellant and Allen into his home and agreed they could spend the night after he was told that Allen had had a fight with Harrington.

After they watched television for a short time, Mos got up to get bedding in the next room. Appellant followed him and stabbed Mos as he turned on a light switch. Appellant then told Allen to get the others and she "took off running." She went to where Harrington and Byrne were waiting and told them what had happened. They started toward the house where they met appellant as he was leaving. They asked if Mos were dead; appellant answered that he did not know but that if he were not they were to finish him. Byrne and Harrington went toward the house and after a few minutes returned and they all went back to Hilltop. There they discussed burning Mos' house to destroy the evidence, and appellant and Byrne left to obtain gasoline for that purpose.

From other witnesses at the trial, it was developed that Byrne and the appellant were arrested on February 23, 1978, at about 2:30 a. m. Deputy Sheriff Donald Allen testified that he stopped a Chrysler for missing license plates on Main Street in Lamont. Richard Byrne was the driver and Frank Claxton the passenger. When he approached the vehicle, Deputy Allen saw a sawed-off 12-gauge shotgun in the back seat and ordered the occupants out. Deputy Watkins, who provided backup assistance for the stop, saw a .22 handgun in the open glove compartment directly in front of where appellant had been sitting. Watkins seized the gun which was loaded and had been filed to remove the serial number. The shotgun was not loaded, but several live shells were recovered from Byrne and from the Chrysler. Appellant and Byrne were arrested on weapons charges and taken into custody.

Appellant testified and admitted stabbing Mos, but claimed he did so because he was scared and thought Mos was going for his gun. Appellant denied any plan to rob and kill the victim and explained that the incident occurred when Allen fled to Mos' house after a quarrel and did not want to return to Harrington.

I Whether Admission of Appellant's Statement to Huston was Reversible Error.

On November 29, 1978, appellant, although 18 years of age, was booked at the juvenile hall because he was 17 when the offense occurred. Dennis Huston was employed as a group supervisor at the juvenile hall. Huston explained at trial that he was responsible for making sure the juveniles were where they were supposed to be. He was not a probation officer and had no investigative functions. He was acquainted with appellant from a prior commitment.

On December 5, 1978, Huston was assigned to the security unit which housed the "more sophisticated or the ones who are charged with the more serious crimes." He was aware that appellant was detained in a single room in the security unit on a homicide charge. Huston was told by the senior supervisor to allow appellant out of his room for the first time to participate in a program with other detainees. Huston was seated in front of the office when appellant sat next to him and asked, " 'How is it going, Mr. Huston?' " Huston answered, " 'Fine,' " then continued, " 'What did you get yourself into?' " Appellant shook his head and replied to the effect that it would have been a perfect crime and he would not have been caught if Harrington's girlfriend had not "snitched." Appellant then, in narrative form, related to Huston the events surrounding the death of Crittendon Mos. As the appellant talked, Huston injected some questions for the purpose of clarifying some points that Huston did not understand.

Appellant's narrative as related to Huston was, on the whole, consistent with Allen's trial testimony: he and others had planned to rob and kill Mos, and went to his house for that purpose. However, appellant explained that he did not know beforehand whether he would actually kill Mos. He stated that the stabbing was on "impulse."

There was another supervisor seated three to four feet to Huston's right who was not involved in the conversation and was not a witness at the trial. Huston related his conversation with appellant to his supervisor, who apparently informed a...

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