People v. Laudermilk

Decision Date12 September 1967
Docket NumberCr. 10984
Citation61 Cal.Rptr. 644,67 Cal.2d 272,431 P.2d 228
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties, 431 P.2d 228 The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Albert Russel LAUDERMILK, Defendant and Appellant. In Bank

Albert Russel Laudermilk, in pro. per.

David Lucchesi, Vacaville, under appointment by Supreme Court, and William R. McBay, Riverside, under appointment by District Court of Appeal, for defendant and appellant.

Thomas C. Lynch, Atty. Gen., William E. James, Asst. Atty. Gen., and Jack K. Weber, Deputy Atty. Gen., for plaintiff and respondent.

SULLIVAN, Associate Justice.

Defendant appeals from a judgment, entered upon a plea of guilty, convicting him of first degree murder (Pen.Code, §§ 187, 189) 1 and sentencing him to life imprisonment (§ 190).

On August 25, 1964, defendant was charged by indictment with the murder of his former wife. Upon arraignment, the public defender was appointed to represent him. He pleaded not guilty, demanded a jury trial, and the cause was set for trial on November 9, 1964. A month later, by leave of court, he entered pleas of not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity. Thereafter, since the case involved a capital offense for which the district attorney was demanding the death penalty, and the court felt that an otherwise heavy case load prevented the public defender from giving it adequate attention, the court pursuant to section 987a appointed Mr. Glithero to represent defendant and pursuant to section 1027 appointed two psychiatrists, Doctors W. S. Musfelt and M. L. Palestine, to examine him. The cause was reset for trial on November 30, 1964.

Both doctors examined defendant within a few days and filed their reports with the court well before the above trial date. The circumstances of the killing, as revealed by the reports, may be summarized as follows: About 12:30 a.m. August 20, 1964, police were called to the house of defendant's former wife, Ethel Gladys Laudermilk, where she lived with her four children. She was found slumped over in the front seat of her car, apparently dead from five bullet wounds. Defendant was found on the floor of the garage with a bullet wound in his chest. The shooting had taken place only minutes before and had been observed by the four children. When police first arrived defendant was conscious and admitted shooting Gladys. One of the children overheard defendant state moments before the shooting: 'Gladys, I don't want to kill you, but it looks as if I am going to have to.' Defendant was taken to a hospital where he again confessed the killing.

Dr. Musfelt's report in pertinent part states that defendant was born in 1927 in Georgia; that he gave no family history of nervous or mental disease; that according to defendant his 'birth and early development was normal so far as he knows and he can remember no serious illnesses or injuries'; that he was raised on a low economic level, suffered much privation, had only a third grade education 'but he is literate'; that defendant was twice married and twice divorced; that he married Gladys in 1956 and claimed 'to have gotten along well' with her until about 1962 when financial difficulties caused him to be 'nervous'; that shortly thereafter, while they were living in Colorado, according to defendant he 'developed the delusion that his wife was having affairs with various men. He became very suspicious, beat up on her, threatened repeatedly to kill her and also to kill himself'; that defendant said his wife repeatedly called the police because of his behavior; that she finally obtained a divorce and defendant 'tells of himself then going rather beserk (sic). Of his being very nomadic and drinking to excess for a number of months'; that he and his wife finally came to California in June 1964 but did not live together; that defendant's 'suspicions of her infidelity continued and he repeatedly threatened her life, the lives of her children and also people she became acquainted with. Police records confirm this.'

Dr. Musfelt's report further states: 'In 1963 and 1964 the patient sought psychiatric help in Denver, Colorado. He was admitted to two or three psychiatric hospitals for from a few days to a few weeks. Records of these hospitals indicate that the staff doctors considered him to be mentally ill, but not psychotic and not in need of supervision, care and treatment. According to the patient they told him nothing could be done for him. Mental examination of patient revealed him to be literate and he seemed to have normal intelligence. He was quiet and cooperative on examination. He did not seem fearful or suspicious. It was not difficult to hold his attention. He comprehended my questions quite well. Some of his answers were not very logical and not truthful. * * * The patient's memory was good for both recent and remote events except as above. There was no history related of previous amnesic attacks. Patient was oriented in all three spheres, not delusional or hallucinated and his reasoning did not seem impaired. He was only mildly depressed. * * * From history and clinical findings it is my opinion patient was legally sane at the time of the act with which he has been charged and is legally sane at the present time.'

Dr. Palestine's report states: that defendant gave him details of personal and family history and of his marriage with the victim which appear to us substantially the same as those recounted by defendant to Dr. Musfelt; that defendant said that after one of the incidents in Colorado, the police took him to a hospital for observation, which 'kept him only a short time and released him, he claims, as a paranoid'; that he said that he was admitted to the Veterans' Hospital, 'stayed only a short time and they let him go with the same impression'; that 'No adequate history is obtainable as to the details of his activities in Colorado or the circumstances concerning his mental examinations while there'; that he persistently denied 'that he has had any arguments with the wife, that he had ever had any intent to kill her.'

Dr. Palestine further states that during his 'mental examination' of defendant, the latter's general attitude and behavior was 'good' and defendant attempted to be cooperative and friendly; that on questions leading up to the shooting, he 'showed evasion'; that in respect to 'emotional status, affect and mood,' defendant 'appeared quite depressed. He showed no affect whatsoever. There were no apparent mood swings'; that defendant 'did not appear to show any delusional ideation * * * and thought processes were well organized'; that he 'seemed to understand fully well,' was 'well oriented in all spheres' and his 'general intelligence appeared to be average'; and that defendant's memory of remote events was intact but he denied any recollection of events involving the shooting. The doctor was of the opinion that if, as defendant claimed, he had been considered a paranoid when examined in Colorado, recommendations for a commitment to an institution would have been made and 'it is impossible to believe that he was considered this type of threat'; that defendant was 'Quite aware, I am certain, of the extent of the seriousness of this offense and he apparently is aware of the difference between right and wrong. It is also certain that at the time of the offense, he was in the sane state of mind and was aware of what he was doing. His loss of memory of the offense can well be an assumed one, this may be an hysterical situation with an unconscious manifestation of it. The chances are that the accusations he made against his wife of her infidelity are fact rather than fictitious. Although this man may have been severely depressed at the time of the incident in that he made a definite suicidal attempt, it is my opinion that at that time he was not psychotic or mentally ill and was in full awareness of what he was doing and that he should be considered as sane at the time of the offense.'

When the case came on for trial on November 30, 1964, and before commencement of the trial, defendant's counsel in chambers moved the court to suspend criminal proceedings pursuant to section 1368 2 on the ground that defendant was not capable of assisting in his own defense as appeared from his conduct on that day and for the previous week and a half. 3 The judge stated that he had read the reports of Doctors Musfelt and Palestine and 'the three others here' and that 'there is nothing in any of them to indicate any more than a personality disturbance.' He further said that there was nothing in the medical reports that would lead 'even to a suspicion' that defendant was unable to assist in his defense.

Defendant thereupon requested and was granted permission to speak. He then related in some detail his difficulties in Colorado, his apprehension by the police, his examination at two hospitals in that state and his eventual divorce, substantially as he had furnished such information to Doctors Musfelt and Palestine. The record discloses that he understood the judge's questions directed to him and that he gave lucid responses. The court thereupon denied defense counsel's motion for a present sanity hearing but indicated that it would appoint a third psychiatrist, Dr. Frank V. Hoffman, to examine defendant.

Proceedings were then commenced in open court and a jury was impaneled and sworn. After the noon recess, the prosecuting attorney made his opening statement. The contents of the opening statement apparently came as a surprise to defense counsel, for he approached the bench and said: 'I didn't know this was going to happen. Let me talk to him (defendant) again. * * * I didn't have the faintest idea this is the way it happened.' At defense counsel's request, the court ordered a recess so that said counsel could discuss the case with defendant. An off-the-record discussion ensued between them. Proceedings were then resumed in open court...

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