People v. Easley

Citation187 Cal.Rptr. 745,33 Cal.3d 65,654 P.2d 1272
Decision Date10 December 1982
Docket NumberCr. 21117
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties, 654 P.2d 1272 The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Elbert Lee EASLEY, Defendant and Appellant.

For Opinion on Rehearing see, 196 Cal.Rptr. 309, 671 P.2d 813.

Mosk, J., concurred and filed statement.

Kaus, J., concurred and filed opinion.

Bird, C.J., and Broussard, J., filed opinions concurring and dissenting.

Roger S. Hanson, Santa Ana, for defendant and appellant.

George Deukmejian, Atty. Gen., Robert H. Philibosian, Chief Asst. Atty. Gen., Edward P. O'Brien and William D. Stein, Asst. Attys. Gen., Gloria F. DeHart, Herbert F. Wilkinson, W. Eric Collins and John B. Moy, Deputy Attys. Gen., for plaintiff and respondent.


This is an automatic appeal from a judgment imposing a penalty of death. (See Pen.Code, § 1239, subd. (b); unless otherwise indicated, all statutory references are to that code.) Defendant raises numerous claims of error occurring at the guilt and penalty phases of his trial. We have concluded that none of these claims has merit, and that the judgment should be affirmed.


Defendant Elbert Lee Easley was convicted by a jury of the first degree murders of Reiner and Sigrid Junghans. (§§ 187, 189.) The jury found that defendant used a deadly weapon, a "pick type instrument," in the commission of the murders. (§ 12022.) The jury also found as special circumstances (1) the murders were intentional and carried out pursuant to an agreement to accept valuable consideration from a person other than the victims (former § 190.2, subd. (a)), and (2) defendant personally committed more than one offense of murder (former § 190.2, subd. (c)(5)). The jury fixed the penalty at death.

We describe the evidentiary web revealed at trial. Reiner and Sigrid Junghans were killed in Modesto on the evening of October 14, 1978. Each was stabbed repeatedly in the head and chest, during which time Sigrid had a rubber ball in her mouth. The pathologist testified that Reiner died from the stab wounds, while Sigrid died from a combination of stab wounds and suffocation caused by the rubber ball.

The prosecution's case rested on the theory that a corporate power struggle had developed between Reiner Junghans and codefendant Joseph Penka. Two former employees, Raymond Smith (Smith) and Donald Davis (Davis), testified that Penka contracted with them to arrange Reiner's death and that they then contacted Westmoreland, defendant's brother-in-law. Westmoreland testified that he hired defendant to kill Reiner.

Penka's business associate testified at length about the dispute between Penka and Reiner, which stemmed from a power struggle among three corporations in which Penka owned stock. He and Reiner were the principal shareholders in one of those corporations, IMMCO, and Penka was repeatedly frustrated in his attempt to wrest control of IMMCO from Reiner. In February 1978, he threatened to "get" those who had opposed him, including Reiner.

Smith and Davis worked for IMMCO until February 1978, when Reiner fired them. One month later, they were arrested and charged with the theft of scrap metal from IMMCO. While departing from a hearing on the theft charge, Penka said to Davis and Smith, "Reiner is going to get his one way or the other." Smith said "The other?" and Penka responded with a threatening gesture.

About two months later, at Davis' urging, Smith called Penka to ask about Reiner. Penka said he was still interested in "taking care of the other," and asked Smith to see what he could do. Smith negotiated with Penka, eventually arriving at a price of $12,500. Penka paid him a down payment of $4,000. Smith made arrangements to have Reiner killed, but the plans fell through.

In late September, Smith and Davis contacted Westmoreland, who agreed to arrange the killing. He went to Fresno to talk to defendant, who said he would kill Reiner for $4,000.

Westmoreland told Davis that he did not have time to do it himself, but would "get Elbert to do it." Smith and Davis located the Junghans' home, and pointed it out to Westmoreland, who showed it to defendant in early October. They agreed that Reiner would be killed by October 15.

On October 13, Penka asked Davis to delay the killing until February. Davis told him it might be too late. Also on October 13, defendant went with his girlfriend, Lorrie Ross, to a farm near Fresno where he obtained baling wire, cutting it with a tool resembling a pair of pliers. At some point during that day, he pawned a carpentry tool, an air nailer, for $30. He used the money to purchase gasoline for his car and drove to Modesto, arriving at Westmoreland's house late that night. Westmoreland testified that he saw baling wire in defendant's bag.

Defendant told Westmoreland he needed a gun. Westmoreland went to see Davis early the next morning, October 14, and Davis gave him a sawed-off shotgun which Davis had bought from his brother Kenneth earlier that morning. Davis himself had sawed off the gun, telling his brother that he was going to sell it to "a couple of guys from Texas."

Westmoreland delivered the gun, wrapped in a sweater, to defendant who told him that he would hide the gun in the sweater until the door was opened, then pull it out and use it to force entry into the house. He practiced handling the gun and sweater.

That same morning, Westmoreland and defendant purchased an icepick and two rubber balls. At approximately noon, defendant left Westmoreland's home with baling wire in his belt loops, carrying the shotgun and icepick. He returned in half an hour, saying that Reiner was not home.

Defendant left again about 5:30 or 6 p.m. He called Westmoreland between 8 and 8:30 p.m. and said it was over. Westmoreland met him at a store, where defendant said he had killed Reiner and Sigrid, and gave Westmoreland Reiner's wallet. Westmoreland directed defendant to wait for him at a diner and drove to Davis' house. He told Davis the Junghans were dead and "Elbert wants his money." Davis called Penka's house several times, but received no answer. He eventually left a message with a woman at the house. About 10 p.m. Penka returned Davis' call and arranged to meet him. Within 10 minutes Penka arrived with $5,000. Davis gave the money to Westmoreland, who kept $1,000 and gave the remainder to defendant.

A bank official testified that she cashed two checks totalling $5,000 for Penka on October 6. She gave him bundles of $20 bills, fastened together with rubber bands.

Lorrie Ross testified that upon his arrival at her home in Fresno at 11 or 12 o'clock on the night of October 14, defendant showed her an envelope containing $4,000 in $20 bills secured by rubber bands, and told her he had robbed a bar. The next day, they visited defendant's uncle and repaid him $600 that defendant had borrowed from him, paying it entirely in $20 bills. Defendant also rented an apartment, bought a headstone for his daughter's grave for $350, spent $100 at a department store, $75 for clothing and $100 for groceries, and gave $200 to Ross' relatives. He and Ross spent two nights at a motel and ate at restaurants, and on October 17, purchased a car for $1,556, paying with $20 bills.

The bodies of Reiner and Sigrid were discovered on October 16. Baling wire was found wrapped loosely around one of Sigrid's wrists and a rubber ball was in her mouth. Reiner's hands and feet were tied with similar wire and a rubber ball was next to his body. Four loose pieces of baling wire were found outside their home. Newspapers dated October 15 and 16 were at their front door. A friend testified that she had talked to them at approximately 7:15 p.m. on October 14, and that it was agreed that they would pick her up at her home at 7:30. When they did not arrive, she called their home repeatedly, beginning at 8 p.m., but received no answer. Based on this information and the condition of the bodies, the pathologist concluded that they had been killed on the evening of October 14.

The police found a small piece of paper on the floor near Sigrid's body, containing the name, "Dave Balch," and two addresses. (Dave Balch was never identified at trial. Westmoreland testified that defendant had planned to obtain entry to the Junghans' home by showing a note to the person who answered the door and asking for directions.) A fingerprint on this paper was identified as defendant's. The officers also discovered a shotgun, bearing Kenneth Davis' fingerprint, on the kitchen table. They were unable to locate Reiner's wallet.

On November 2, 1978, the police executed a search warrant for defendant's apartment and his two cars. They seized a pair of wire cutters from one of the automobiles, and a state criminologist testified that the markings on the wire cutters matched those on the baling wire removed from the victims' bodies, concluding that the wire cutters had been used to cut the baling wire.

Testifying in his own behalf defendant asserted his innocence. He denied having had any conversations with Smith, Davis or Westmoreland concerning any killing. He acknowledged visiting Westmoreland on October 13 and 14 and although Westmoreland borrowed his car, defendant did not leave the house. Defendant spent the evening of the 14th at Jalisco's restaurant in Fresno, and a witness Jose Hernandez testified that he remembered seeing defendant at Jalisco's on the evening of October 14.

Defendant was unable to explain telephone company records which revealed a call at 6 p.m. on October 14 from Westmoreland's residence in Modesto to the halfway house in Fresno where defendant then lived. Records at the halfway house indicated that defendant had called to check in about 6 p.m. on that evening.

Defendant testified that he had $2,880 in cash, mostly in $20 bills, on the weekend of October 14, a combination of loans and payment for his work as a carpenter. He said...

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