People v. Harris, No. S081700.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Writing for the CourtCHIN
Citation57 Cal.4th 804,306 P.3d 1195,161 Cal.Rptr.3d 364
PartiesThe PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Willie Leo HARRIS, Defendant and Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. S081700.
Decision Date26 August 2013

57 Cal.4th 804
306 P.3d 1195
161 Cal.Rptr.3d 364

The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
Willie Leo HARRIS, Defendant and Appellant.

No. S081700.

Supreme Court of California

Aug. 26, 2013.



See 4 Witkin & Epstein, Cal.
Criminal Law (4th ed. 2012) Jurisdiction and Venue, § 84 et seq.

[161 Cal.Rptr.3d 377]

Richard I. Targow, Sebastopol, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for Defendant and Appellant.


Edmund G. Brown, Jr., and Kamala D. Harris, Attorneys General, Dane R. Gillette, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Michael P. Farrell, Assistant Attorney General, Harry Joseph Colombo, William K. Kim, Eric Christoffersen, Kathleen A. McKenna and Amanda D. Cary, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

CHIN, J.

[57 Cal.4th 810][306 P.3d 1205]Following a mistrial,1 a jury convicted defendant Willie Leo Harris of the first degree murder (§§ 187, subd. (a), 189), robbery [306 P.3d 1206]( §§ 211, 212.5, subd. (a)), and rape ( § 261, subd. (a)(2)) of Alicia Manning; unlawful taking of a vehicle ( Veh.Code, § 10851, subd. (a)); and arson ( § 451, subd. (d)). The jury found true special circumstance allegations of robbery murder and rape murder ( § 190.2, former subd. (a)(17)(I), (III)), and further found that defendant had used a deadly or dangerous weapon (§ 12022, [57 Cal.4th 811]subd. (b)(1)).2 The jury returned a verdict of death. The trial court denied defendant's automatic application to modify the penalty verdict (§ 190.4, subd. (e)), and sentenced him to death on the murder count and imposed a determinate sentence on the remaining counts and enhancements.

Appeal to this court is automatic. (§ 1239, subd. (b).) We affirm the judgment.

I. Facts

On May 20, 1997, defendant entered Alicia Manning's apartment and raped and killed her. He then stole Manning's car and set it on fire. Defendant told the police he had had consensual sex with Manning on the night of her murder, but denied killing her. At trial, defendant argued Manning's boyfriend killed her.

A. Guilt Phase
1. Prosecution Evidence

a. Alicia Manning

In 1997, Alicia Manning was a college senior living in a Bakersfield apartment with her friend and fellow student, Thea Bucholz. Manning had been seriously dating her boyfriend, Charles Hill, for a year, and had known him for over three years. Hill, who was not in school and did not

[161 Cal.Rptr.3d 378]

have a job or a working vehicle, lived in Tulare, a town approximately an hour's drive from Bakersfield. At trial, two unsent letters written by Manning shortly before her death were introduced into evidence: one was addressed to “Charles sweetheart,” and described her love for him; the other was addressed to a friend and discussed her postgraduation plans with Hill.

In April 1997, Bucholz met defendant through a mutual friend. Defendant and Bucholz became fast friends, and socialized often. Defendant sought a romantic relationship with Bucholz, which she refused, but they remained friends. Defendant, who was unemployed and did not have a car, lived with his girlfriend, Zenobia Findley, and her brother in an apartment less than a mile away from Bucholz and Manning's apartment.

About a week after Bucholz met defendant, she introduced him to Manning. Manning was in the apartment during three of defendant's visits. Throughout [57 Cal.4th 812]April and May, defendant frequently called the apartment when Bucholz was not home. Manning told Bucholz that defendant's calls were interfering with her studying, and she asked Bucholz to request that he stop calling the apartment.

During this time, Findley suspected defendant had become romantically involved with Bucholz and called the women's apartment. Manning answered the phone and during the ensuing conversation Findley threatened her. Manning reported the call to police.

Around May 16, Manning and Hill discussed ending their relationship because she felt he spent too much time with his friends, and she also feared he might have given her a sexually transmitted disease. Carolyn Krone, an associate director of the student health center at Manning's university, later told Manning that testing indicated that she did not have a sexually transmitted disease.

On May 19, Manning confronted defendant and Bucholz about Findley's threatening phone call and told them she had called the police. Manning was furious and told defendant and Bucholz to tell Findley to stop calling the apartment.

That evening, Manning, Hill, and Hill's father went out to dinner. Hill drove Manning back to her apartment in her car, but did not park in the space closest to her apartment. Manning and Hill had intended to have sex but did not because he was feeling ill. Hill was picked up by his father [306 P.3d 1207]at Manning's apartment around 10:00 p.m., and Bucholz returned soon thereafter. The women stayed up talking, and Manning told Bucholz that she had concerns whether Hill was “the right guy for her.” No one else visited the apartment that night.

On May 20, around 3:00 p.m., Manning came home from class and Bucholz soon left to go to her class. Defendant telephonically paged Bucholz around 6:15 p.m. When Bucholz called defendant back, he asked if they could meet up later. Bucholz told him to page her around 9:30 p.m., but he never did.

At some point that afternoon, Hill visited the house of a nearby friend, Pat McCarthy, in Tulare. Hill socialized with McCarthy until around 1:00 a.m., and then walked home. Hill spoke with Manning on the telephone around 5:30 p.m. McCarthy could not say if Hill had been at his house the entire time, but he did not remember Hill being gone for more than 20 minutes at any point. According to Hill, 10 to 15 other people came and went from McCarthy's house that day; McCarthy, however, did not recall anyone other than Hill at his house.

[161 Cal.Rptr.3d 379]

[57 Cal.4th 813]Findley ran into defendant near their apartment sometime after 8:30 p.m., gave him some beer she had purchased, and left around 9:20 p.m. to go to a friend's house.

Around 10:00 p.m., James Ave, one of Manning's neighbors who worked as an athletic trainer at her university, noticed her car was parked in the space closest to her apartment, and that the interior dome light was on. Another neighbor, whose apartment shared an exterior staircase and landing with Manning's, heard someone go up and down the staircase about three times, but did not otherwise hear anything unusual. Around 10:10 p.m., this neighbor left his apartment and saw someone leaving Manning's apartment. The neighbor also saw a television and portable stereo in Manning's car.

Around 10:50 p.m., Findley called her apartment; defendant answered and asked her why she had not yet returned. When she arrived at her apartment around 11:00 p.m., defendant was there. There was nothing unusual about defendant's demeanor or appearance.

Around 11:00 p.m., firefighters responded to a reported vehicle fire less than a third of a mile away from defendant's apartment. By the time the firefighters arrived at the vehicle, later determined to be Manning's, the fire had been put out. An arson investigator concluded the fire had been intentionally set by using rubbing alcohol as an accelerant. No usable latent fingerprints were found inside the vehicle. A fingerprint obtained from the outside of the vehicle did not match defendant's.

Around midnight, Bakersfield Police Officer Mike Golleher went to Manning's apartment and knocked on the door, but received no answer. Another officer attempted to call the apartment, but the line was busy.

Around 1:30 a.m. on May 21, Bucholz returned to the apartment. She noticed the front door was unlocked and the blinds covering a sliding glass door were open, which was unusual. The television was not in its usual place, and there were items scattered around the living room. Bucholz later determined that the television, a malfunctioning videocassette recorder, and a portable stereo were missing from the apartment.

Bucholz attempted to enter the bedroom, but the door was partially blocked by a fan. Bucholz turned on the light and saw Manning, nude from the waist down, lying facedown on her bed in a pool of blood. Bucholz called out Manning's name, but she did not respond.

Bucholz went to call 9–1–1, but the telephone was not in its usual place in the dining room. She found the telephone with its receiver off the hook on the [57 Cal.4th 814]floor of the dining room, and dialed 9–1–1. Soon thereafter, Officer Golleher entered the apartment and determined that Manning was dead.

Defendant paged Bucholz around 4:00 a.m., which was an unusual time for him to page her. She told him it was not a good time to talk, but they spoke later that morning and she told him the police would probably be contacting him because she had given them his name. Defendant became “kind of quiet” after Bucholz said this. Bucholz asked defendant where he had been that night, and he said he was with Findley watching movies [306 P.3d 1208]and eating pizza. Bucholz thought defendant did not sound like himself.

Around 5:00 a.m., police officers went to Hill's house and told him that Manning had been murdered. Hill started to cry and left the room. The police returned that evening, and saw no visible injuries on Hill's hands, arms, head, or neck.

[161 Cal.Rptr.3d 380]

Crime scene technicians collected physical evidence and took photographs at the women's apartment. There was no evidence of a break-in at any of the apartment's points of entry. There were no usable fingerprints inside the apartment, on the outside doorknob, or on the exterior staircase's hand railing.

Near where the telephone was usually kept was a note that read, “Will called at 6:15 p.m., 9:00 p.m., and at 9:30 p.m.” On a microcassette tape located next to the answering machine was a message from defendant to the effect of “If someone calls looking for [Bucholz's] pager's number, don't give it to her, it's my girlfriend, she's trippin'.”

On the living room floor was a steak knife...

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