People v. Ghobrial, S105908

Decision Date21 June 2018
Docket NumberS105908
Citation420 P.3d 179,234 Cal.Rptr.3d 669,5 Cal.5th 250
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. John Samuel GHOBRIAL, Defendant and Appellant.

Michael J. Hersek, State Public Defender, San Francisco, under appointment by the Supreme Court, Denise Anton and Anne W. Lackey, Deputy State Public Defenders, San Francisco, for Defendant and Appellant.

Kamala D. Harris and Xavier Becerra, Attorneys General, Sacramento, Dane R. Gillette, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Julie L. Garland, Assistant Attorney General, San Diego, Holly D. Wilkens and Collette C. Cavalier, Deputy Attorneys General, San Diego, for Plaintiff and Respondent.


A jury found defendant John Samuel Ghobrial guilty of the first degree murder of Juan Delgado, a 12-year-old boy, and found true the special circumstance that the murder was committed while defendant was engaged in the commission of a lewd and lascivious act on the child. ( Pen. Code, §§ 187, subd. (a), 190.2, subd. (a)(17)(E), 288.) Following the penalty phase, the jury returned a death verdict and the trial court entered a judgment of death. This appeal is automatic. ( Cal. Const., art. VI, § 11, subd. (a); Pen. Code, § 1239, subd. (b).) We affirm the judgment.

A. Guilt Phase

On March 21, 1998, the partial remains of Juan Delgado were discovered near the address where defendant was then living. Defendant admitted that he killed Delgado, but denied that the murder was premeditated or deliberate. He also denied that the murder was committed in the course of a lewd and lascivious act on the child.

1. Prosecution case

In March 1998, Delgado was a sixth grader at Washington Middle School in the City of La Habra. Defendant, who lived in a rented shed in La Habra, frequently was found panhandling in a commercial area of the city. Delgado and defendant were acquainted. A classmate, Armando Luna, recalled that he and Delgado saw defendant begging for food sometime in December 1997, and that Delgado had purchased a Snickers bar for defendant. On another occasion, in late February or early March 1998, Alfonso Solano saw Delgado and defendant "horsing around" outside a market and liquor store. Solano recognized defendant from defendant's earlier panhandling in the neighborhood; defendant is particularly distinctive because one of his arms had been amputated following an accident that had occurred many years before the murder. Solano did not know Delgado, but Delgado approached him as he exited the liquor store and whispered to him in Spanish, " ‘Señor, sir,’ ... he is going to kill me.’ " Solano then heard defendant tell Delgado in English, " ‘I am going to kill you. I will kill you and eat your pee-pee.’ "

Delgado was last seen on March 18, 1998. Another classmate, Josefina Gomez, saw Delgado walking with defendant behind her family's restaurant that afternoon. Defendant was holding Delgado by the hand. Gomez knew Delgado from school, and he greeted her as he walked towards an alleyway with defendant.

Early in the morning on Thursday, March 19, at about 12:30 a.m., defendant visited a Super Kmart in La Habra. He purchased a stockpot, cutting boards, knives, and pans. According to the cashier, Yvette Trejo, the entire transaction took about 15 minutes because defendant paid in small bills and change, left the checkout line several times to seek out additional items, and asked her to ring up the items in separate transactions.

Later that same day, defendant went to a Home Depot in La Mirada, where a store employee, Alan Hlavnicka, helped him pick out bags of concrete and tools for mixing it. Hlavnicka estimated that he spent about 30 minutes speaking with defendant. Defendant asked Hlavnicka for a ride home, because he was purchasing several large, heavy items. Hlavnicka was unable to leave during his shift, but offered to drive defendant home later if he waited for Hlavnicka's lunch break. Defendant paid a cashier for the items and checked out at about 1:30 p.m.Hlavnicka did not see defendant leave the store, but at approximately 2:45 p.m. that afternoon, Rene Hojnacki saw him pushing a shopping cart down Imperial Highway. Because it was a hot day, she initially offered him a ride. When she realized she could not fit his belongings in her car, she gave him some money for a cold drink and drove away. She told him she would return to give him a ride later, but she did not see him when she drove through the area later that afternoon.

Between 3:00 and 3:30 p.m. that afternoon, Steven Mead saw an older man drop defendant and his belongings off at the construction site in La Habra where Mead was working. The man asked Mead to give defendant a ride, and Mead eventually agreed. Mead moved concrete, wire, and a variety of tools that the older man had unloaded when dropping defendant off into his pickup truck. Mead then drove while defendant gave him directions. When Mead asked why defendant was transporting such large items without his own car, defendant demurred, telling Mead he had no means of transportation but needed money to feed four children. Mead observed that defendant did not speak English very well, was sweating profusely, and smelled like he was wearing cologne. Mead dropped defendant off at his destination and helped defendant unload his purchases onto the curb.

At about 11:40 p.m. the following night, March 20, Gina Thompson was driving down Walnut Street in La Habra and saw someone using one arm to push a heavy shopping cart down the sidewalk. The cart contained two box-shaped objects, one of which had something sticking out of it. Between 11:30 p.m. and midnight that same night, Jose Madrigal was standing outside his home and saw defendant turn onto Highlander Avenue from Walnut Street pulling an empty shopping cart down the sidewalk. Madrigal recognized defendant because he had seen him panhandling outside a local supermarket.

The next morning, March 21, Lorenzo Estrada found a concrete cylinder dripping with blood on his front lawn. Estrada's home is approximately one block north and one block west of Madrigal's home. When the police picked up the cylinder later that day, the concrete had not yet set. Estrada did not recall seeing the cylinder when he returned home between 1:15 and 1:30 a.m. earlier that morning.

On the street outside Estrada's home and in his neighbors' yards, investigators found wire, wood, a red Target basket, a blue plastic jug, a thong sandal, and a shopping cart containing cement. Across the street, they found wet cement on the ground with what appeared to be a track running through it. Defendant lived in a rented shed behind the main house at that address. Another concrete cylinder was found a few blocks away on Walnut Street.

Later that day, law enforcement officers brought both concrete cylinders to the coroner's office and broke them apart. Each contained portions of Delgado's remains, some of which were wrapped in black plastic bags. Delgado's lower abdomen and pelvis were missing and not located for a full year, when a third concrete cylinder was found behind an abandoned convalescent hospital less than two blocks east of the shed where defendant lived.

Defendant checked into the La Habra Motel the evening of March 21. He checked out between 7:00 and 8:00 a.m. the next day. He was arrested shortly thereafter.

Following defendant's arrest, law enforcement searched defendant's shed and found a number of tools, including a saw, a saw blade, scissors, a knife, a bloody cleaver, bolt cutters, a trowel, a capping tool, tin snips, latex gloves, and a black stockpot with cement inside, as well as packaging for some of these items. Defendant's fingerprints were found on several of the items, including the stockpot, the capping tool, and the packaging for the cleaver. There was wet cement on the floor, as well as blood on the carpet, the dresser, a wall, a quilt, and a blanket. The investigators also found some pornography, black trash bags, receipts for defendant's purchases at Super Kmart and Home Depot, a thong sandal that matched the one found in the street, some shoes and clothing, and a detention slip and paperwork with Delgado's name on it. Jorge Delgado, Juan's brother, identified the shoes and clothing as his brother's.

Dr. Aruna Singhania performed an autopsy on March 22. She testified that Delgado's head had been severed with irregular, jagged cuts, and the arms and legs had also been severed. Dr. Singhania observed trauma to the left eye that was consistent with choking or asphyxiation, but she did not identify a specific cause of death.

The following year, when a third concrete cylinder containing remains of Delgado's lower abdomen and pelvic section was found, Dr. Singhania performed another autopsy. She observed that the penis and scrotum had been severed and were missing, as were the internal genitalia. She did not observe any tearing or trauma in the anus. The remains were covered in concrete and showed signs of decomposition. The victim's genitalia were never found.

At the time of the initial investigation, in 1998, law enforcement personnel were able to extract DNA from some of the blood found in the shed. Later analysis revealed that the blood in the shed was not defendant's and matched Delgado's DNA profile. The DNA specialist who performed the analysis testified that the statistical probability of a random match is less than one in one trillion. When the third cylinder was found a year later, investigators were unable to extract DNA samples for analysis from the pelvic region because of the decomposition of the tissue.

Aimee Yap, a forensic scientist with the Orange County Sheriff's Crime Laboratory, reviewed anal swabs taken from the pelvic remains for semen. Though a protein test did not reveal P30, a protein found in semen, Yap testified that that particular protein is unstable and can break down quickly. She further testified that she did identify...

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    ...reckless indifference to human life]; accord, Clements, at p. 618; People v. Williams (2020) 57 Cal.App.5th 652, 663; see People v. Ghobrial (2018) 5 Cal.5th 250, 277.) "[W]e look to whether the prosecution has sufficient evidence of '"'reasonable, credible, and of solid value'"' to 'suppor......
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    ...People v. Gerberding (Fresno Cty. Superior Ct. Appellate Div. 2020) 50 Cal. App. 5th Supp. 1—Ch. 5-A, §3.2.1 People v. Ghobrial, 5 Cal. 5th 250, 234 Cal. Rptr. 3d 669, 420 P.3d 179 (Cal. 2018)—Ch. 1, §2.2; §4.10.1 People v. Gibbs, 255 Cal. App. 2d 739, 63 Cal. Rptr. 471 (3d Dist. 1967)—Ch. ......
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