People v. DeSantis

Decision Date13 July 1992
Docket NumberNo. S004706,S004706
Citation9 Cal.Rptr.2d 628,2 Cal.4th 1198,831 P.2d 1210
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties, 831 P.2d 1210 The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Stephen DeSANTIS, Defendant and Appellant.

Fern M. Laethem, State Public Defender, under appointment by the Supreme Court, Musawwir Spiegel, Sandra Gillies and Jay Colangelo, Deputy State Public Defenders, for defendant and appellant.

John K. Van de Kamp and Daniel E. Lungren, Attys. Gen., Richard B. Iglehart, Chief Asst. Atty. Gen., Arnold O. Overoye, Asst. Atty. Gen., Ward A. Campbell and Michael J. Weinberger, Deputy Attys. Gen., for plaintiff and respondent.

MOSK, Justice.

A jury convicted defendant of the first degree murder of Edward Davies (Pen.Code, § 187). 1 The jury specially found that defendant personally and intentionally committed the murder with premeditation and deliberation. The jury found that the murder was committed during a burglary, a special circumstance (§ 190.2, subds. (a)(17)(vii) & (b)), and during a robbery, also a special circumstance (§ 190.2, subds. (a)(17)(vii) & (b)). The jury found defendant guilty of the attempted murder of Grace Davies, Mr. Davies's wife (§§ 664 & 187, subd. (a)). The jury also found defendant guilty of the second degree burglary of the Davies residence (§ 459), of the robberies of Mr. and Mrs. Davies (§ 211), of the unlawful taking of a vehicle (Veh.Code, § 10851), and of conspiracy to commit robbery (§ 182).

The court found true allegations that defendant had suffered five prior felony convictions: 1967 convictions for grand theft auto and for receiving stolen property, a 1973 conviction for first degree robbery, a 1975 conviction of escape from state prison, and a 1977 Oklahoma conviction for robbery with the use of a firearm. The court found not true a sixth allegation--that defendant was convicted in Oklahoma for injury to a public building, a felony.

The jury deadlocked at the penalty phase and a second jury was impaneled. That jury found that the aggravating factors outweighed the mitigating, and fixed the penalty at death. After denying motions for new trial, to strike the findings of special circumstances, and to reduce the penalty, the court sentenced defendant to death on the murder charge, and imposed prison terms on the other counts.

For reasons that will appear, we affirm the judgment in its entirety.

A. Guilt Phase Facts.
1. Undisputed Facts.

Grace and Edward Davies, an elderly couple known to have a cache of precious metals on the premises of their Sacramento home, were eating lunch and watching television in the kitchen in the early afternoon of December 9, 1981, when the doorbell rang. Mrs. Davies survived to relate the events that follow. Mr. Davies did not.

Mrs. Davies answered the call of the bell. A man outfitted with a hard hat and wearing a red or orange jacket or safety vest and a utility belt stood at the door. An accomplice waited in a telephone company truck parked outside. The man at the door, who would soon rob the couple, said he was from the telephone company and needed to repair the Davieses' instrument. Mrs. Davies allowed him to enter. A neighbor observed the truck's arrival from across the street and was in turn noticed by both robbers.

The man located a phone near the kitchen table, stood for a few seconds with his back to the Davieses, and turned around. Mrs. Davies saw he was aiming a small gun at them.

The man ordered the Davieses to lie down on the floor and bound them with handcuffs and cords. He placed towels and other objects over Mrs. Davies's head, apparently to obscure her vision. Later Mrs. Davies felt an object against her throat and heard a voice tell her husband, "I'll cut your old woman's throat if you don't tell me where the gold is."

Sometime thereafter Mrs. Davies heard a noise that she believed to be a gunshot. It came from the direction in which her husband lay. She then felt something placed against her ear through a cloth that was covering her head, and heard the noise of the gunshot that wounded her. She apparently lost consciousness. After coming to, she realized she was touching her husband's leg and could feel it twitch. She called out to him several times, but he did not answer. Perhaps aware that somebody else was in the room, she called out for her painful wrist bindings to be loosened. She then heard another noise, after which she no longer felt her husband's leg twitch. Someone then cut her wrist bindings and took off the handcuffs. Thereafter, Mrs. Davies heard the opening of a door leading from the kitchen to the garage and someone wandering in the house, though she still could not see.

The man who initially came to the door did so about 1:15 to 1:30 p.m. It had become dark outside when Mrs. Davies realized she no longer heard any noises in the house. Though seriously wounded, she retrieved a knife and cut the cords binding her ankles. She tried to call for help but discovered the telephone handset had been cut from the rest of the instrument. Unable or unwilling to go outside in the December cold, she lay on a sofa throughout the night; when dawn broke she crawled out to the sidewalk, where a woman discovered Mrs. Davies's condition and called the police. She was hospitalized for about one month and suffered total loss of hearing in one ear, permanent paralysis on one side of her face, the inability to close one eye, and impairment of her sense of balance.

A pathologist concluded that Mr. Davies probably died from the effect of gunshot wounds to the brain. There was one wound on the left side of his head and one on the right; the left wound was not likely to have been the fatal one. The bullets that inflicted the wounds appeared to be .22-caliber; one was copper- and one lead-colored, but both were too damaged to determine if they were fired from a specific gun.

The robbery netted a considerable amount of property, including silverware, jewelry, silver coins, silver ingots, and guns.

Defendant and his cousin Gary Masse, who the court instructed the jury was an accomplice as a matter of law, planned and executed the Davies robbery together. Masse had heard from Gloria Killian, reputedly a law student, that the Davieses had a large cache of valuable property on the aboveground premises and might have more buried in the back yard. Killian and others wanted to have someone execute the robbery, split the proceeds with the robbers, and reward them by giving them information that would allow them to commit a much larger robbery in the future.

2. Prosecution Case.

The prosecution successfully contended that defendant was the man who went to the Davieses' door, the man who shot the couple as Mr. and Mrs. Davies lay on the floor, and the man who later returned to fire the fatal shot into Mr. Davies's head.

The prosecution theorized that Masse and defendant went to the Davies home in a telephone company truck that defendant had stolen the night before. Defendant was wearing telephone company paraphernalia, including a hard hat and utility belt he had shown Masse during a chance meeting in the parking lot of a Sacramento restaurant six days earlier.

Defendant was carrying a small .22-caliber pistol. Masse had been in possession of a larger .22-caliber handgun earlier in the day in preparation for the robbery, but after a previous pass by the Davies residence the two had agreed Masse's gun was too large. They drove to the home of defendant's brother, Robert DeSantis, and left Masse's gun in a van parked in the yard.

While Masse waited in the truck outside, pretending to inspect the truck's inventory in the manner of a telephone company employee, defendant went to the front door and gained entrance. After a few minutes Masse came inside, verified that defendant had everything under control, left to move the truck, and returned. Masse then helped collect property. Defendant had covered the Davieses. Later, with Masse nearby, defendant shot each of the Davieses, firing the initial, nonfatal shot into Mr. Davies. Masse and defendant then drove the Davieses' booty-laden Peugeot to the house of defendant's brother Robert, and put the proceeds in defendant's van. Masse took the Peugeot to the parking lot of a shopping center; Robert gave him a ride back.

After Masse returned, he and defendant decided to retrieve the handcuffs that defendant had left on the Davieses, but had no keys with which to do so. Defendant and Masse drove to a store in downtown Sacramento, where defendant bought a new set of handcuffs, including keys. The two returned to the Davieses' home. Masse waited in the car while defendant reentered the residence. The prosecution theorized that defendant then shot Mr. Davies a second time and removed the handcuffs and ropes binding both victims. When defendant returned to the car, he told Masse that Mr. Davies was still alive and was asking for help.

In the days following the robbery, defendant shaved off his mustache and, with his wife, fled the area. (He was arrested a year later in Port Aransas, Texas.) The authorities soon learned the robbers' identities. They persuaded Masse that if he was not the triggerman it would behoove him to turn himself in, which he did about a week after the shooting.

The prosecution case against defendant was overwhelmingly predicated on Masse's testimony. It was Masse who supplied the details of the planning of the robbery and his and defendant's respective roles during its execution. Masse's testimony was damning: he testified that he was alarmed when he heard or saw defendant shoot Mr. and Mrs. Davies, and that defendant, observing his state of shock, said: "Why should you get upset about these people? ... You killed animals before, and you don't feel bad about them, and these people aren't no different than animals." Masse also testified that defendant wanted to shoot Killian, who was demanding her...

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