People v. Lara

Citation67 Cal.2d 365,432 P.2d 202,62 Cal.Rptr. 586
Decision Date29 September 1967
Docket NumberCr. 10061
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Parties, 432 P.2d 202 The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Tony Montoya LARA and Raymond Morales Alvarez, Defendants and Appellants.

Everett E. Ricks,. Jr., and J. Raymond Cullum, Long Beach, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for defendants and appellants.

Thomas C. Lynch, Atty. Gen., William E. James, Asst. Atty. Gen., James H. Kline and Thomas Kerrigan, Deputy Attys. Gen., for plaintiff and respondent.

MOSK, Justice.

Defendants Lara and Alvarez appeal from judgments convicting each on one count of first degree murder and one count of kidnaping for the purpose of robbery with the victim suffering bodily harm. (Pen.Code, §§ 189, 209.) Alvarez was sentenced to life imprisonment on both counts; pursuant to jury verdicts, Lara was sentenced to death on the murder count and life imprisonment without possibility of parole on the kidnaping count. The appeal of Lara is automatic. (Pen.Code, § 1239, subd. (b).)

Defendants' principal contentions are that incriminating evidence was introduced against them which had allegedly been obtained by an illegal search and seizure, that they did not intelligently and understandingly waive their rights under People v. Dorado (1965) 62 Cal.2d 338, 42 Cal.Rptr. 169, 398 P.2d 361, that it was a violation of People v. Aranda (1965) 63 Cal.2d 518, 47 Cal.Rptr. 353, 407 P.2d 265, to allow their mutually incriminating confessions into evidence, and that the prosecutor committed prejudicial misconduct. As will appear, we have concluded that no prejudicial error occurred and hence the judgments should be affirmed.

About 3 p.m. on May 23, 1965, the body of Raymond Mitchell was discovered in a large excavation used as a dump near Wilmington, California. He was lying on a ledge some 15 feet below the top of the excavation. His hands were tied behind his back with strips torn from his T-shirt. He had been shot in the back with a shotgun, death being caused by massive hemorrhages of the vital organs. Officer Taggart of the Los Angeles Police Department, the first to reach the scene, found two spent shotgun shells on the ground nearby. The deputy coroner fixed the time of death at between 3 a.m. and 8 a.m. that same day.

That evening, Mitchell's car, a light-colored 1951 Chevrolet, was found abandoned approximately two miles away in an area known as the Bixby Slough. It was stuck, and could not be moved either forward or backward under its own power. Officer Taggart examined the vehicle and observed a discoloration appearing to be blood on the steering column.

Augustine Meza testified that about 1:30 a.m. on May 23 he was offered a ride by Mitchell in the latter's Chevrolet. They drove to a liquor store to buy some cigars. Meza declined Mitchell's offer of a drink from a bottle of wine, explaining he had been drinking since a wedding reception the previous afternoon. Ten or fifteen minutes later they drove to a lumberyard where they encountered defendants Lara and Alvarez, known to Meza respectively as 'Tony' and 'Baby.' Lara and Alvarez entered Mitchell's car, saying 'Why don't you take us for a ride?' Meza then asked to be driven home, and Mitchell complied. It was 2 a.m.; Meza had something to eat, and went to bed.

Roberta Real testified that about 4 a.m. she received a telephone call from Lara, who was her boyfriend. He sounded drunk and sleepy. He told her he had been in a fight and 'I shot some boy, me and some other ones,' and left him in the dump. The witness could not remember the other details of the conversation, but testified that a certain written statement she gave to the police two days later was true at the time she made it. In the relevant portion of that statement, which was read to the jury, 'Tony (Lara) said he had a fight with the guy. They got out of the car and Tony took the gun and told the guy to take off his jacket and shirt. Tony said if you don't take off your jacket by the time I count to five, I will shoot you. The guy was crying and said 'Don't shoot. Don't shoot.' The guy took off his jacket, just leaving his T-shirt on. Then Tony said they tied the guy's hands behind his back, and the guy acted like he fainted or something.'

About 3:30 p.m. on the day of the shooting Meza again encountered Alvarez at the lumberyard. Alvarez told Meza that they had killed the boy who had driven Meza home; that 'one of them had shot him first Two days later Meza was in the custody of the Pasadena police on an unrelated charge. Meanwhile, friends of Mitchell had informed the authorities they last saw the deceased in the company of a man named Augustus or Agosto. A Pasadena jailer who had heard about the Wilmington murder learned that Meza's first name was Augustine and saw what appeared to be blood on his clothing. He called the matter to his superior's attention, and Meza was interviewed by Officer Taggart and his partner, Sergeant Knapp. Meza related to the officers the above described events of May 23, including the apparent involvement of 'Tony' and 'Baby' in the murder. The officers learned through the juvenile authorities that the latter were probably Lara and Alvarez, and Meza recognized the names and identified their faces from photographs.

[432 P.2d 207] and then the other one.' Meza expressed disbelief, and left.

The Los Angeles police thereupon communicated this information to the Police Department of the City of South Gate, where Lara's sister, Mrs. Arujo, lived. Officer Miller of that department went to Mrs. Arujo's house at 6 p.m. the same day. She answered the door, identified herself as Lara's sister, and let the officer into the living room. He asked if Lara was there, and requested permission to search the premises. Permission was denied, but the officer heard a thumping noise from an adjacent bathroom. Lara then appeared from the hallway and said, 'Are you looking for me?' After Lara identified himself he was placed under arrest on the charge of murder. The officer then looked in the bathroom and found a 12-gauge shotgun. Officer Miller said to his partner, Sergeant Weiss, 'I wonder if this gun is loaded,' and Lara interrupted, 'The gun is loaded' and volunteered to unload it. The gun was turned over to a ballistics expert, whose tests subsequently established it was the same weapon that had fired the two shells found near Mitchell's body.

Mrs. Arujo testified that in the two-day period between the shooting and Lara's arrest the latter asked her if he could stay at her house. He told her he was 'in trouble' because he and others had shot the boy whose body had been found in the dump. After refreshing her recollection from a statement she had given to the police, the witness testified Lara also told her 'they had tied him up' before shooting him.

At the time of Lara's arrest Sergeant Weiss told him it was his duty to advise him of his constitutional rights. Lara replied that he knew his rights; but the officer said it was his duty to advise him anyway, and informed him that he had the right to an attorney, that he could remain silent if he wished, and that any statements he made could be used against him in court. The officer asked Lara if he understood, and he replied that he did.

Lara, Mrs. Arujo, and her two children were transported to the South Gate Police Department and turned over to the investigating officers, Taggart and Knapp. Miss Real, whose mother had reported her to the police as a runaway juvenile, was also taken into custody. Lara was again advised of his constitutional rights, and again stated he knew and understood them. After failing in his efforts to make a 'deal' with the officers, as hereinafter described, Lara confessed.

The first part of his statement corroborated the information given by Meza as to what occurred in the early morning hours of May 23. After taking Meza home, according to Lara, Mitchell drove back to the lumberyard with him and 'this other person.' 1 Lara retrieved a shotgun he had 'stashed' there, and upon returning to the car displayed it to Mitchell and asked, 'Do you know what this is?' There was a scuffle, then Mitchell began driving at their direction. They stopped at the dump The two then drove away, looking for a place to rob. Finding none to their liking, Lara took the other person hom. Lara then removed some small objects from the car, wiped it clean of fingerprints, and 'ditched' it when it stuck in a field.

[432 P.2d 208] near Wilmington, and Lara ordered Mitchell to take off his coat and shirt. Mitchell refused, and Lara warned that if he did not do it by the count of five he would hit him and the other person would shoot him. Mitchell either fainted or was knocked unconscious. Lara knicked him twice in the head; they removed his coat and shirt, tore off part of his undershirt, and used it to tie his hands behind his back. They first put him in the trunk of the car, but were unable to close the lid. They then carried him to the edge of the excavation and threw him over. Lara obtained the gun from the car, set the chock, and shot Mitchell in the back as he lay on a ledge below. The other person took the gun, reset the choke, and also fired a shot at Mitchell. According to Lara, he and his companion wanted Mitchell's car for the purpose of using it in the commission of an armed robbery, and they killed him to prevent him from identifying them.

After making the foregoing oral statement, Lara reduced it to writing and signed it. He subsequently led Officer Taggart to some bushes in a field, where Mitchell's coat and shirt were found hidden, and to a spot in the back yard of his mother's house, where Mitchell's ignition and house keys, and the items taken from his car, were unearthed.

At 10:10 p.m. on May 25 Alvarez was arrested at his home and taken to the San Pedro Police Station. One of the arresting officers informed him he had the right to an attorney and the right to...

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