People v. Cox

Citation30 Cal.4th 916,70 P.3d 277,135 Cal.Rptr.2d 272
Decision Date09 June 2003
Docket NumberNo. S004703.,S004703.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
PartiesThe PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Michael Anthony COX, Defendant and Appellant.

Frank O. Bell, Jr., Fern M. Laethem and Lynne S. Coffin, State Public Defenders, under appointments by the Supreme Court; Barry P. Helft, Assistant State Public Defender, Joel Kirshenbaum, Michael Pescetta, Musawwir Spiegel and Mary McComb, Deputy State Public Defenders for Defendant and Appellant.

John K. Van de Kamp, Daniel E. Lungren and Bill Lockyer, Attorneys General, Steve White, George Williamson and Robert R. Anderson, Chief Assistant Attorneys General, Jo Graves, Assistant Attorney General, Ward A. Campbell, Edmund D. McMurray, Harry Joseph Colombo, John G. Mclean and R. Todd Marshall, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

Certiorari Denied December 1, 2003. See 124 S.Ct. 808


On November 26, 1985, defendant Michael Anthony Cox was sentenced to death for the 1984 first degree murders of three teenage girls—Denise Galston, her sister Debbie Galston, and Lynda Burrill—with the special circumstance of multiple murder. (Pen.Code, §§ 187, 190.2, subd. (a)(3).) This appeal is automatic. (Pen. Code, § 1239, subd. (b).) For the reasons stated below, the judgment is affirmed.1

I. Guilt Phase
A. Overview

Nona Chapman ran a foster home for teenage girls on Weswin Court in Placerville. Darlene S. (Darlene), age 17, moved into the home on December 14, 1983. Debbie Galston (Debbie), age 14, moved in on May 11, 1984, left two weeks later, and returned on July 10, 1984. Her sister, Denise Galston (Denise), also age 14 (they were two of a set of triplets), moved in on May 23,1984. Joanna N. (Joanna), age 17, moved in on May 25, 1984.

Joanna testified that she saw defendant stab Denise to death on June 12, 1984. Denise's body was found in the El Dorado National Forest on July 31, 1984. Her clothes were found on April 30, 1985, near the location where her body had been found.

Lynda Burrill (Lynda), age 18, lived with roommates in Placerville and was acquainted with the girls who lived in the foster home. She disappeared on June 29, 1984, and was last seen with defendant. Her body was found in the El Dorado National Forest on August 4, 1984. A week later, her clothes were recovered near the location where the body was found.

Debbie disappeared from the foster home on August 8, 1984. Joanna, who was Debbie's roommate at the home, found her clothes in the El Dorado National Forest on August 10, 1984. Debbie's body was found on October 27, 1984, not far from where her clothes were found.

Defendant, then age 27, worked at a convalescent hospital in Placerville. Although employed, he often slept in his car, which he would park in downtown Placerville. He met Darlene in January 1984 and immediately began dating her. They would often go camping in the areas where the victims' bodies were later recovered. They married in September 1984, but defendant left Darlene in November of that year. Defendant knew all of the murdered girls, as he frequented an arcade called The Oz in downtown Placerville where they congregated, and he often picked up Darlene at the foster home. Testimony showed he had a low regard for the three victims.

Darlene testified that defendant told her shortly after Debbie disappeared that he had killed all three girls. Defendant was arrested on November 10, 1984 for the three murders.

B. Defendant's Attitude Toward the Victims

Several teenage girls testified that prior to Denise's murder on June 12, 1984, defendant had made rude and threatening comments toward the three victims. For example, Michele D. (Michele), age 15, testified that she met defendant in April of 1984 and that defendant called Denise a slut, stated that Debbie was "turning out real bad," and called Lynda a "hoser." Michele further stated that defendant's whole attitude changed in the spring and summer of 1984. "He became obscene and started listing people, labeling them, what they were and stuff." Defendant told Michele that she "shouldn't be like them."

Lynette H., age 16, testified that in early April of 1984 she was riding in defendant's car when he told her "that some of the girls downtown had a bad reputation to him," and that they were "sluts."

Lynne A., a high school student, testified that she knew Debbie, Denise, and Lynda from downtown Placerville. In May of 1984, she was with the three victims and two other girls near The Oz when defendant came by, called the girls "sluts," and made a vulgar sexual reference toward them. On another occasion, Lynne A. testified that Lynda and two other girls were seated on a bench and defendant yelled from his car, "Does your mama know where you sluts are at?"

Darlene testified that defendant called Denise a slut. She stated that in the spring of 1984, she and defendant were in his car and they saw Denise smoking a cigarette outside the foster home. Defendant told Darlene "three would be eliminated from the foster home and three more." On cross-examination, however, Darlene stated that "eliminate" was her word.

C. Murder of Denise Galston

Denise was last seen on June 12, 1984, the day she was murdered. Joanna witnessed her murder, but did not come forward with this information until late October of 1984.

On July 31, 1984, Denise's remains were found. Loggers John Keyser and Todd Story were working off Ferrari Mill Road. They testified that they reached that spot by driving down Iron Mountain Road, also known as Mormon Emigrant Trail, crossing two dams and making a right turn onto Ferrari Mill Road. On Ferrari Mill Road, they traveled approximately three-quarters of a mile to an intersection known as "Four Corners," turned right and traveled about one-half to three-quarters of a mile. There they found a human skull and other bones. They found no clothing. Through dental records, including X-rays, it was determined that the bones were the remains of Denise. The pathologist was unable to determine the cause of death; all she could state was that there was no observable trauma to any of the bones.

On the evening of June 12, Joanna went to a church parking lot and began drinking. Thereafter, she went to downtown Placerville. She witnessed a commotion, during which Ron Burelco threw a cement block through the windshield of a patrol car. This incident took place between 9:10 and 9:30 p.m. At this time, she saw defendant by the Bell Tower (a local downtown landmark) in his car. He told Joanna that he wanted to talk to her. She got in his car and they drove to the city park. Defendant made a sexual overture to Joanna and grabbed her breast. Joanna returned downtown, where she saw Denise arguing with police officers. She pulled Denise aside and spoke with her. She then walked over to the Stancil's Toyota dealership, where she again saw Denise, and the two spoke briefly. Denise left, and Joanna watched her walk under an overpass, toward the foster home.2

Joanna then saw defendant drive by and she made a rude gesture using her third finger, in response to the earlier incident in his car. Defendant stopped where Denise was walking. Joanna stated that it looked like they were arguing and Denise got into his car. The car turned around, approached Joanna, and stopped. Denise asked Joanna to get in the car. Joanna agreed, and sat in the front seat next to Denise. The three left Placerville and headed onto Highway 50. Defendant said they were going to a party. They got off at the Sly Park exit and drove onto Sly Park Road, and then onto Mormon Emigrant Trail. Soon thereafter, the car then turned onto a dirt road, which was Ferrari Mill Road. Joanna saw yellow letters on a tree stump and asked to stop to go to the bathroom. The car eventually stopped and Joanna got out, walked about 100 yards away from the car and vomited. She climbed up a wooded area and washed her face in a "little trickle of water, a stream," which was "just barely enough to wash [her] face." She could see by moonlight. She then heard Denise screaming her (Joanna's) name, and went to the area where she heard Denise's voice. She saw Denise running in the nude with defendant chasing her. It looked like Denise's hands were tied behind her back. Defendant pushed Denise down, put a knife to her throat, and stabbed her. Joanna stated she ran away while Denise was still screaming.

Joanna reached the road from which they had turned off to get onto Ferrari Mill Road (Mormon Emigrant Trail), saw a car coming, and hid. A second car drove toward her, and when she realized that it was not defendant's, she ran out in front of the car. The driver turned out to be a person named Joe whom she previously had met at a place called Happy Trails. She got in his car, told him nothing, and he dropped her off at the Burger King in Placerville.

Once in town, Joanna said she met Bruce Nesthus and stayed over at his house. Nesthus confirmed that he saw Joanna by the Bell Tower at approximately 3:30 a.m. Nesthus stated that Joanna was very jumpy and her mind seemed elsewhere; she would look over her shoulder and, when a car came by, she would try to hide; and, when she walked into his house, she sighed with relief. Nesthus stated that they had sexual relations and Joanna left the next morning, telling him she was going water-skiing.

Adele Nelson, Joanna's social worker, met with Joanna on June 13, 1984. She had spoken with her on seven to 10 occasions prior to that date. She said Joanna's demeanor was substantially different on June 13. Nelson stated that it seemed that what they had discussed two days earlier "was completely out of her mind, and [Nelson] wondered what had happened to obliterate what had been important to her from her mind."

Joanna testified that she told no one of the murder, including the police, Nesthus, Chapman, her boyfriend Larry Wright, or Darlene because she thought she...

To continue reading

Request your trial
513 cases
  • People v. Sanchez
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • December 11, 2014
    ...relevant to the crime's commission, but are not the actual murder weapon, they may still be admissible." ( People v. Cox (2003) 30 Cal.4th 916, 956, 135 Cal.Rptr.2d 272, 70 P.3d 277, disapproved on other grounds by People v. Doolin (2009) 45 Cal.4th 390, 421, fn. 22, 87 Cal.Rptr.3d 209, 198......
  • In re Gay
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • February 13, 2020
    ...whether counsel failed to represent defendant as vigorously as he might have, had there been no conflict" ( People v. Cox (2003) 30 Cal.4th 916, 948, 135 Cal.Rptr.2d 272, 70 P.3d 277 ) and whether Gay was prejudiced thereby ( Doolin , at pp. 418–421, 87 Cal.Rptr.3d 209, 198 P.3d 11 ).The re......
  • Dickey v. Davis
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of California
    • September 12, 2019
    ...was the appropriate penalty.' (Burgener, supra, 29 Cal. 4th at p. 884 [129 Cal.Rptr.2d 747, 62 P.3d 1].) (People v. Cox (2003) 30 Cal. 4th 916, 971, 135 Cal.Rptr.2d 272, 70 P.3d 277.)Defendant acknowledges this court has previously rejected similar arguments. However, as did the defendant i......
  • People v. Woodruff
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • July 19, 2018
    ...when he "fail[s] to represent defendant as vigorously as he might have, had there been no conflict." ( People v. Cox (2003) 30 Cal.4th 916, 948, 135 Cal.Rptr.2d 272, 70 P.3d 277.) Based on these brief inquiries, we discern no potential for conflict. Blankenship did not represent defendant’s......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
5 books & journal articles
  • Table of cases
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books California Objections
    • March 29, 2023
    ...8:10, 8:30, 9:30, 9:120, 17:140, 19:50 Cowan, People v. (2017) 8 Cal. App. 5th 1152, 214 Cal. Rptr. 3d 576, §21:110 Cox, People v. (2003) 30 Cal.4th 916, 135 Cal. Rptr.2d 272, §§1:140, 1:400 Cox v. Superior Court (2002) 98 Cal. App. 4th 670, 120 Cal. Rptr. 2d 45, §10:180 Crabtree, People v.......
  • Objections, motions and related procedures
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books California Objections
    • March 29, 2023
    ...People v. Wash (1993) 6 Cal. 4th 215, 263, 24 Cal. Rptr. 2d 421. • Inadmissible evidence was presented to the jury. People v. Cox (2003) 30 Cal. 4th 916, 961, 135 Cal. Rptr. 2d 272; People v. Harris (1994) 22 Cal. App. 4th 1575, 1580-1581, 28 Cal. Rptr. 2d 317. • The court made a disparagin......
  • Chapter 1 - §4. Relevance of specific evidence
    • United States
    • Full Court Press California Guide to Criminal Evidence Chapter 1 Relevance
    • Invalid date
    ...devices found in D's possession were admissible when prosecution argued that D killed victim by cutting her throat); People v. Cox (2003) 30 Cal.4th 916, 956 (although prosecution argued that evidence pointed to stabbing, guns in D's possession were admissible when victims' causes of death ......
  • Table of Cases null
    • United States
    • Full Court Press California Guide to Criminal Evidence Table of Cases
    • Invalid date
    ...1994)—Ch. 5-A, §5.1.3(1)(a) People v. Cox, 168 Cal. App. 4th 702, 85 Cal. Rptr. 3d 716 (3d Dist. 2008)—Ch. 5-A, §4.2.2(2) People v. Cox, 30 Cal. 4th 916, 135 Cal. Rptr. 2d 272, 70 P.3d 277 (2003)—Ch. 1, §4.4.3(1)(b); Ch. 3-A, §3.4.3(1)(e) People v. Cox, 53 Cal. 3d 618, 280 Cal. Rptr. 692, 8......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT