People v. Edelbacher, No. S004527

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Writing for the CourtJohn K. Van de Kamp, Atty. Gen., Steve White, Chief Asst. Atty. Gen.; KAUFMAN; MOSK; BROUSSARD; PANELLI; LUCAS
Citation766 P.2d 1,47 Cal.3d 983,254 Cal.Rptr. 586
Parties, 766 P.2d 1 The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Peter EDELBACHER, Defendant and Appellant. Crim. 23126.
Docket NumberNo. S004527
Decision Date23 January 1989

Page 586

254 Cal.Rptr. 586
47 Cal.3d 983, 766 P.2d 1
The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
Peter EDELBACHER, Defendant and Appellant.
Crim. 23126.
No. S004527.
Supreme Court of California,
In Bank.
Jan. 23, 1989.

[47 Cal.3d 995] [766 P.2d 6]

Page 591

Jeffrey B. Kupers, John F. Kennedy University School of Law, Walnut Creek, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for defendant and appellant.

John K. Van de Kamp, Atty. Gen., Steve White, Chief Asst. Atty. Gen., J. Robert Jibson, Raymond L. Brosterhous II and Cynthia G. Besemer, Deputy Atty. Gen., Sacramento, for plaintiff and respondent.

Page 592

KAUFMAN, Justice.

Defendant Peter Edelbacher appeals from a judgment of death under the 1978 death penalty law following his conviction on a jury verdict of the first degree murder (Pen.Code, §§ 187-189; all further references are to the Penal Code unless otherwise stated) of Lela Schwartz-Edelbacher (Lela), with special circumstance findings that the murder was intentional and carried out for financial gain ( § 190.2, subd. (a)(1)) and that defendant intentionally killed the victim while lying in wait ( § 190.2, subd. (a)(15)) and with a finding that a firearm was used in the commission of the murder ( § 12022.5). On a plea of guilty, defendant was also convicted of solicitation to murder Signe McClure ( § 653f, subd. (b)). 1 The appeal is automatic. ( § 1239, subd. (b).)

We shall affirm the judgment as to the findings of guilt and special circumstance but will reverse the penalty of death and remand the matter for a new penalty trial. Reversal of the penalty verdict is required because the jury at the penalty phase may [766 P.2d 7] have been misled to defendant's prejudice about the nature of the penalty determination process and the scope of its sentencing discretion.

47 Cal.3d 996

I. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

A. The Prosecution's Case.

Defendant and Lela were married in 1977 and they had one child, a son. Lela had separated from defendant and had commenced proceedings to dissolve the marriage when she reported to police, in May 1980, that defendant had raped her. Defendant was arrested and released on bail. A few days later, defendant told Lela he would "blow her fucking head off" if she "went through with this" (referring to the rape prosecution, the marital dissolution, or both).

Defendant and Lela agreed to share custody of their child. A temporary support order was entered requiring defendant to pay Lela $150 per month in child support, effective June 1980. In January 1981 Lela obtained an assignment of defendant's wages because he was $700 in arrears. In February 1981 defendant was tried and acquitted on the charge of spousal rape. During the same month, an interlocutory judgment was filed awarding the bulk of the community property (a 44-acre ranch) to defendant and requiring him to pay Lela $48,730.50 for her interest in the property no later than April 18, 1981.

In March 1981 one of defendant's automobiles was repossessed. A 12-gauge shotgun and a box of shells which were in the vehicle at the time of repossession were returned to defendant. On March 31, defendant's mother deposited $48,500 in a savings account. Defendant's parents had borrowed the money for defendant's use to pay Lela but the bank employee who handled the deposit told defendant his mother had expressed reluctance to lend him the money. When informed of his mother's reluctance, defendant seemed unconcerned.

On April 3, 1981, Lela spent the evening at a friend's house, returning to her parents' house, where she was then living, shortly after 11 p.m. 2 A few minutes later a blast shook the house. Lela's parents found her lying on the floor of her room, fatally wounded, having been shot in the back. There were holes in the window glass and curtains and the room smelled of gunpowder.

Police detectives found partial shoeprints outside the bedroom window. Based on the angle of shotgun pellet holes in the bedroom wall, it appeared [47 Cal.3d 997] the shooter had been standing about eight feet from the window, which was consistent with the location of the shoeprints.

On the following morning investigators went to the home of defendant and his parents, where they took casts and photographs

Page 593

of shoeprints found in areas where defendant had walked. Although these prints were similar to the prints at the murder scene, it could not be determined whether they had been made by the same shoe and no charges were filed against defendant at that time.

Defendant met Signe McClure (McClure) in June 1981 and they began dating. On December 4, 1981, defendant mentioned that his son, who was now living with him full time, frequently awoke about midnight and cried for Lela. McClure said the boy probably awoke at that time because it was about the time Lela was killed. Defendant told McClure "he could still see Lela walking across the floor the night the incident happened." McClure did not respond to this statement. Defendant called McClure the next day and asked if she remembered everything they had discussed the night before. McClure said she remembered "most of the things" they had discussed.

Defendant had a conversation with his friend, Phil Green, on or about December 14. Green said one of his guns had been missing for several months, only three people had known where he kept his guns, and he had ruled out everyone but defendant. Green said he did not understand what would cause a person to kill someone. Defendant replied: "Lela knew something [766 P.2d 8] was going to happen." A short time later defendant said, "God, I wish they would just throw me in jail. I wish this whole thing was over with."

On or about December 14 defendant also had a discussion with McClure. Defendant said Phil Green had asked him why it had been necessary to do what he did and had said there were other ways to work out the problems concerning his son's custody and the ranch. McClure asked if Lela had been killed with Phil Green's gun and defendant said, "it was the gun." When McClure asked defendant why he did what he did, defendant replied: "I had to do what I had to do." On December 22, 1981, McClure told defendant she wanted to terminate their relationship.

Defendant met with McClure's former husband Michael on January 4, 1982. Defendant said his wife had been killed after the spousal rape case and it "really worked out good." Defendant suggested the same thing could happen to McClure because defendant knew "some people who could take care of the problem for [Michael] or [defendant] could." Defendant said [47 Cal.3d 998] Michael would have custody of his son and would not have to pay support if McClure was gone.

On January 8, 1982, defendant entered McClure's residence wearing gloves and a ski mask that completely covered his face. Defendant was carrying a sawed-off shotgun. Defendant ordered McClure to lie on the floor and said she knew too much. Defendant taped her mouth and handcuffed her hands behind her back and ordered her into her bedroom. Defendant said it would make too much noise if he shot the gun in the house so he had an alternate plan but he did not explain what the plan was. Defendant left about four hours after he arrived. 3 McClure reported the incident to the police and defendant was arrested later that night. In defendant's van were gloves, a full-face ski mask and handcuffs but no weapons.

Defendant was visited in jail on January 27, 1982, by his brother Chris. Their conversation was monitored and recorded. Defendant said there was something he wanted Chris to take care of. Defendant wrote "hit Signe" on a piece of paper which he showed to Chris. Defendant told Chris to do this before the preliminary hearing scheduled for March and offered his Corvette to Chris. Defendant said "it" (i.e., killing McClure) was the only way he could get out of jail quickly. Defendant wrote the name Jeff Denise on the paper and suggested Chris might ask Denise to do "it" for "a few G's" (i.e., a few thousand dollars). Using veiled language, gestures, and a few written words, defendant outlined

Page 594

a plan by which a person would enter McClure's house, open drawers to give the appearance of a burglary, and shoot McClure when she returned to the residence. As he explained the plan defendant displayed a diagram he had drawn on the paper showing McClure's residence. At one point defendant said: "... it's easy, take it from me ... [e]specially if you don't even have to look, you know, just-- ...--you just make sure you got the right one coming in...." This conversation formed the basis of the charge of solicitation to commit murder.

Defendant also offered to pay $100,000 to William "Skip" Johnson, a fellow jail inmate, if Johnson killed McClure. Johnson asked whether defendant had killed Lela. Defendant replied by asking Johnson what Johnson would do if a woman took his child, started divorcing him behind his back, and took all his money. Johnson said he thought he would kill her. Defendant said: "I rest my case."

47 Cal.3d 999] B. The Defense

Defendant testified that on the day of Lela's murder he spent the evening with a friend named Carol Leos. They met approximately 8:30 p.m., went to a restaurant where they each had two glasses of wine, and then about 10:30 p.m. they went to a party. Defendant decided not to stay and [766 P.2d 9] telephoned his brother Stefan, asking to be picked up at a church. Carol Leos drove defendant to the church and waited 10 to 15 minutes with him before leaving. Stefan arrived a few minutes later and drove defendant to Stefan's apartment. After 15 to 30 minutes Stefan received a telephone call from Diana Valencia reporting that Lela had been shot. Defendant then went to the apartment of a woman named Sheila Butler where he spent the remainder of the night.

Although he realized he was suspected of having killed Lela, defendant did not tell his attorney, Sheila Butler, or his parents that he had been with...

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472 practice notes
  • People v. Mayfield, No. S005620
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • January 2, 1997
    ...if it has any tendency in reason to prove or disprove a disputed fact at issue. (Evid.Code, § 210; see People v. Edelbacher (1989) 47 Cal.3d 983, 1015-1016, 254 Cal.Rptr. 586, 766 P.2d 1; People v. Burgener (1986) 41 Cal.3d 505, 527, 224 Cal.Rptr. 112, 714 P.2d 1251.) Here, the presence of ......
  • People v. McWhorter, No. S068536.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • August 6, 2009
    ...432, 842 P.2d 1192]; People v. Kaurish (1990) 52 Cal.3d 648, 685[, 276 Cal.Rptr. 788, 802 P.2d 278]; People v. Edelbacher (1989) 47 Cal.3d 983, 1017-1018[, 254 Cal.Rptr. 586, 766 P.2d 1].)" (People v. Bradford (1997) 15 Cal.4th 1229, 1325, 65 Cal.Rptr.2d 145, 939 P.2d In People v. Hall (198......
  • People v. Douglas, No. S004666
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • April 2, 1990
    ...the jury its constitutionally compelled sentencing discretion. He relies on our penalty judgment reversal in People v. Edelbacher (1989) 47 Cal.3d 983, 1036, 254 Cal.Rptr. 586, 766 P.2d 1 (and cases cited), to support his argument that the jury was misled with respect to the proper context ......
  • People v. Brooks, S099274
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • March 20, 2017
    ...of the prosecution's case. (People v. Rogers (2013) 57 Cal.4th 296, 329, 159 Cal.Rptr.3d 626, 304 P.3d 124 ; People v. Edelbacher (1989) 47 Cal.3d 983, 1007, 254 Cal.Rptr. 586, 766 P.2d 1.) Defendant argues nonetheless that the trial court's refusal to force the prosecutor to accept the sti......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
470 cases
  • People v. Mayfield, No. S005620
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • January 2, 1997
    ...if it has any tendency in reason to prove or disprove a disputed fact at issue. (Evid.Code, § 210; see People v. Edelbacher (1989) 47 Cal.3d 983, 1015-1016, 254 Cal.Rptr. 586, 766 P.2d 1; People v. Burgener (1986) 41 Cal.3d 505, 527, 224 Cal.Rptr. 112, 714 P.2d 1251.) Here, the presence of ......
  • People v. McWhorter, No. S068536.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • August 6, 2009
    ...432, 842 P.2d 1192]; People v. Kaurish (1990) 52 Cal.3d 648, 685[, 276 Cal.Rptr. 788, 802 P.2d 278]; People v. Edelbacher (1989) 47 Cal.3d 983, 1017-1018[, 254 Cal.Rptr. 586, 766 P.2d 1].)" (People v. Bradford (1997) 15 Cal.4th 1229, 1325, 65 Cal.Rptr.2d 145, 939 P.2d In People v. Hall (198......
  • People v. Douglas, No. S004666
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • April 2, 1990
    ...the jury its constitutionally compelled sentencing discretion. He relies on our penalty judgment reversal in People v. Edelbacher (1989) 47 Cal.3d 983, 1036, 254 Cal.Rptr. 586, 766 P.2d 1 (and cases cited), to support his argument that the jury was misled with respect to the proper context ......
  • People v. Brooks, S099274
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • March 20, 2017
    ...of the prosecution's case. (People v. Rogers (2013) 57 Cal.4th 296, 329, 159 Cal.Rptr.3d 626, 304 P.3d 124 ; People v. Edelbacher (1989) 47 Cal.3d 983, 1007, 254 Cal.Rptr. 586, 766 P.2d 1.) Defendant argues nonetheless that the trial court's refusal to force the prosecutor to accept the sti......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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