People v. McPeters, S004712

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Citation9 Cal.Rptr.2d 834,832 P.2d 146,2 Cal.4th 1148
Decision Date13 July 1992
Docket NumberNo. S004712,S004712
Parties, 832 P.2d 146 The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Ronald Avery McPETERS, Defendant and Appellant.

[2 Cal.4th 1164] [832 P.2d 151] Gary D. Sowards and Jean R. Sternberg, California Appellate Project, San Francisco, under appointments by the Supreme Court, for defendant and appellant.

Daniel E. Lungren, Atty. Gen., Richard B. Iglehart, Chief Asst. Atty. Gen., Arnold O. Overoye, Asst. Atty. Gen., Ward A. Campbell and Thomas F. Gede, Deputy Attys. Gen., for plaintiff and respondent.

LUCAS, Chief Justice.

This is an automatic appeal from a judgment and sentence of death following defendant's conviction of first degree murder committed during a robbery or attempted robbery. (Pen.Code, §§ 187, 190.2, subd. (a)(17)(i); all statutory references are to this code unless otherwise indicated.) Finding no reversible error in the guilt or penalty phases of defendant's trial, we affirm the judgment in its entirety.

[2 Cal.4th 1165]


On August 6, 1984, Linda Pasnick drove her car into the drive-through entrance of a Der Wienerschnitzel fast-food restaurant in

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[832 P.2d 152] Fresno, placed an order at the speaker box, and moved to the service window to await her order. Defendant approached her and thrust his head in the open, driver's side window. When Pasnick looked toward the service window, defendant followed her glance and was seen by the restaurant's assistant manager, who recognized him as a customer. After defendant walked away from Pasnick, the assistant manager asked her whether she knew defendant. Visibly shaken, Pasnick replied she did not and that defendant had attempted to obtain money from her. Pasnick had four dollars in her hand; her purse was lying next to her on the car seat

As the assistant manager rang up Pasnick's sale, Pasnick pointed next door and said, "Look, he's bothering that lady now." The assistant manager observed defendant talking to a woman in front of a nearby 7-Eleven store; she yelled through the window for defendant to leave and threatened to call the police.

Defendant got into his car and drove to the 7-Eleven parking lot, parking his car behind those of two 7-Eleven customers. The customers saw defendant reach across the front seat to the passenger side of his car and then get out of the car. Defendant stared at one of the customers for a few seconds and then walked back to Der Wienerschnitzel, fumbling with the waist of his shirt, which hung loosely outside his pants.

As Pasnick pulled away from the service window, defendant walked up from behind her vehicle, drew a gun from his waist, leaned inside the open driver's side window of her car, and fired at her three times. She fell over to her right side, but managed to pull out onto the street where she headed in the wrong direction and collided with a parked van. A driver passing Pasnick's car observed her body slumped over the seat and bloody; still alive, she asked him to get help, whereupon he left his car and ran to Der Wienerschnitzel.

In the meantime, defendant returned to his car, drove it back to Der Wienerschnitzel, parked it and got out. He again approached Pasnick's car from the rear, walking up to the front passenger window with the gun in his hand. Seeing defendant, Pasnick shook her head back and forth as if to say "no." Defendant fired a shot through the window directly at Pasnick. He stepped back, then stepped forward and fired at her again. He left the scene, got into his car, and drove away.

[2 Cal.4th 1166] Defendant returned to his cousins' house, where he had previously spent the night. When he arrived, his cousin Sabrina noticed that her sister Arleena, whom defendant had taken to Winchell's Donuts 45 minutes earlier, was not with him. When she asked defendant where Arleena was, he replied he had left her at Winchell's. Defendant pulled the gun from his pants and asked Sabrina to hold it for him. She took the weapon, and put it in her bedroom, under her pillow. Defendant and Sabrina then left in defendant's car to pick up Arleena.

Winchell's was located near Der Wienerschnitzel. On their way to Winchell's, defendant and Sabrina passed the location of the Pasnick shooting. Law enforcement personnel, paramedics, and witnesses were on the scene. As defendant and Sabrina drove by, people yelled at them to stop. An officer noted that defendant and his car matched the descriptions given by witnesses to the shooting. Sabrina turned to defendant and asked, "Ronnie, what'd you do up here?" Defendant told her to be quiet, increased his speed, and attempted to change lanes to avoid capture. He was apprehended by police.

Defendant's gun was retrieved from Sabrina by police officers. It was a .357 magnum six-shot revolver with spent shells in five of its six chambers. The gun had recently been fired. Pasnick died from gunshot wounds to the neck and head. She suffered five bullet wounds, three on her left and two on her right side. Ballistics analysis of bullet fragments from Pasnick's body revealed they had been fired from defendant's gun. Defendant's fingerprints were found on the murder weapon and on a beer can in his car.

When defendant was booked, he had in his possession a windowed envelope containing $208.23 in cash. Pasnick's sister

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[832 P.2d 153] and husband testified that Pasnick, who was a compulsive spender and was pursuing a career as a model, had adopted the self-disciplinary practice of budgeting for clothing and other special items by placing specific amounts of cash in envelopes that she would take with her on shopping trips. A shopping bag with three shoe boxes containing shoes with attached price tags was found in Pasnick's car

Defendant testified on his own behalf, denying any involvement in the murder of Linda Pasnick and maintaining he had never been to Der Wienerschnitzel. Defendant admitted he had $208 in cash on him at the time of his arrest, but contended the cash was not in an envelope and that it represented the proceeds of an unemployment check he had received a week earlier. When confronted with his fingerprint on the murder weapon, defendant hypothesized that someone had transferred the print from the beer can in his car or from his police fingerprint roll to the gun.

The defense presented testimony that defendant appeared nervous and fidgety to his aunt and had drunk alcohol and smoked marijuana the day [2 Cal.4th 1167] before he killed Pasnick. Post-arrest toxicological testing revealed no drugs or alcohol in defendant's blood.

The jury convicted defendant of first degree murder and robbery with a special circumstance of murder in the commission of a robbery or attempted robbery. Allegations of firearm use and infliction of great bodily injury were also found true.

At the penalty phase, the prosecution presented evidence of three other crimes committed by defendant within approximately four years of the Pasnick murder. On one occasion, defendant started a fight with another man over the man's alleged failure to return jumper cables defendant had purportedly loaned to him. When the fight ended, defendant removed a gun from a trunk of his car and began shooting at the man and his brother as they departed in their car. On a second occasion, defendant, while involved in a fistfight, pulled a gun and shot his cocombatant once, then chased him, firing another shot. The cocombatant died; defendant was convicted of involuntary manslaughter as a result of the incident. On a third occasion, defendant physically assaulted a man and threatened the man's wife after rear-ending his motorcycle.

In his defense, defendant presented a different version of the third incident, maintaining that the man he hit had used a racial epithet and had assaulted him first. Defendant's relatives portrayed him as a "nice person" who had experienced learning disabilities and premature hair loss as a child. One defense psychiatrist diagnosed defendant as schizophrenic and offered an opinion that he had been so for at least a year prior to the Pasnick murder. Another defense psychiatrist, however, believed that defendant was psychotic rather than schizophrenic and hypothesized that his psychosis was drug-induced.

The prosecution disputed defendant's penalty phase evidence. A prosecution expert testified that defendant was neither schizophrenic, nor psychotic, nor under the influence of drugs when he killed Pasnick. With testimony from defendant's landlord and aunt, both of whom reported no evidence of drug use, the prosecution challenged the drug-induced-psychosis defense. Finally, one of defendant's jailers testified defendant had threatened to act crazy at his preliminary hearing if he did not receive his lunch, which he had already been given.

At the close of the penalty phase, the jury fixed the penalty for defendant's crimes at death. Defendant's motion for new trial and the automatic motion for modification of sentence pursuant to section 190.4 were denied and [2 Cal.4th 1168] defendant was sentenced to death. His appeal to this court is automatic. (§ 1239.)

I. The Competency Determination

In March 1985, defendant's counsel expressed doubt that defendant was competent to stand trial. The trial court suspended criminal proceedings in accordance with section 1368 and appointed Dr. Charles Davis and, at defendant's request, Dr. Paul

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[832 P.2d 154] Levy to examine defendant. Dr. Levy concluded defendant was incompetent and unable to cooperate in preparing a defense; Dr. Davis observed defendant was hostile and uncooperative and expressed the view he was either feigning mental illness or suffering from a psychosis of undetermined etiology. A third expert, Dr. Hedburg, was then appointed to examine defendant; he found defendant...

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