People v. Melton

Citation750 P.2d 741,44 Cal.3d 713,244 Cal.Rptr. 867
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Decision Date03 March 1988
Parties, 750 P.2d 741 The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. James Andrew MELTON, Defendant and Appellant. Crim. 23029.

Robert F. Kane, Tahoe City, for defendant and appellant.

Rudolf Corona, Jr., Office of the Atty. Gen., San Diego, for plaintiff and respondent.

EAGLESON, Justice.

Defendant James Andrew Melton was convicted of one count of first degree murder (Pen.Code, §§ 187, 189 )1, one count of burglary (§ 459), and one count of robbery (§ 211). Under the 1978 death penalty initiative law, special circumstances were found true that the murder was committed in the course of a robbery (§ 190.2, subd. (a)(17)(i)) and of a burglary (id., subd. (a)(17)(vii)). The jury imposed the death penalty for the murder. This appeal is automatic.

We find no prejudicial error at either the guilt or penalty phases of defendant's trial. We therefore affirm the judgment in all respects.

A. Prosecution case.

On Tuesday evening, October 13, 1981, police officers found Anthony DeSousa dead in his Newport Beach condominium. DeSousa, a 77-year-old White male, was lying on his back in bed, naked, his hands bound in front of his body with an electrical cord from a portable vanity mirror. His face was covered with a pillow, and a woven mesh-type cord was tightly wound around his neck. A leather strap known as a "cock ring" was wrapped around DeSousa's penis.

The victim had been severely beaten about the face and head shortly before his death; the beating had caused a broken canine tooth. The condition of the body suggested DeSousa had been dead for several days. The pathologist who performed the autopsy opined that the victim had been strangled to death after the beating rendered him unconscious. In the pathologist's view, whoever had inflicted the beating would have injured his hands.

DeSousa's condominium had been ransacked. Blood was spattered throughout the bedroom. DeSousa's wallet was found empty except for his driver's license. A jewelry box had been pried open. Two matching blue socks were found at separate locations in the apartment. On the dining table were two used dinner settings and two uneaten servings of pie. The premises were thoroughly dusted for fingerprints and bloodstain samples were analyzed; none matched defendant's.

On October 16, one Johnny Boyd told his parole officer that defendant was involved in the homicide. The same day, investigating officers arrested defendant near his residence as he entered DeSousa's car. Two of the victim's rings were found in his possession.

Detective Hietela interviewed defendant pursuant to a Miranda waiver (Miranda v. Arizona (1966) 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694) shortly after his arrest. When asked if he knew DeSousa, defendant replied that they were lovers. He said he had spent Saturday, October 10, with the victim at Disneyland and claimed DeSousa had lent him his car. Defendant asserted he had left DeSousa at 4 p.m. that day and denied having any other property of the decedent.

Defendant had been staying at the apartment of a friend, Diane H. After interviewing defendant, Hietela went to Diane's apartment and searched it with her consent. He discovered luggage, a movie projector, cameras, and several electronic items belonging to DeSousa. He also recovered two pawn tickets bearing defendant's signature. By tracing these tickets, police discovered that on October 12, defendant had pawned, then redeemed, one of DeSousa's rings found in his possession when he was arrested. Police retrieved another of DeSousa's rings which defendant had sold on October 13 to a company in the business of melting down gold jewelry and reusing the stones.

Boyd was the principal prosecution witness. In return for a grant of immunity, he testified as follows: he and defendant were fellow inmates at California Men's Colony (CMC) and had been lovers in prison. While in CMC, they conceived a plan to solicit older, affluent males who ran personal advertisements in the Advocate, a national gay newspaper. Attempts would be made to obtain property from the men, as gifts if possible, by force if necessary.

According to Boyd, he was released from CMC in January 1981, while defendant was still incarcerated. Boyd went to live with his parents in Pasadena. In the summer of 1981, he noticed DeSousa's ad and arranged a meeting. During a dinner at DeSousa's residence, DeSousa explained that he liked "masculine" Black men with sadomasochistic tendencies and preferred the feminine role in sex. The two therefore concluded they were not sexually compatible, but they agreed to see each other again as friends. Boyd mentioned that DeSousa might be interested in his "cousin," who was 6 feet tall, weighed 200 pounds, and had a 29-inch waist. He was referring to defendant.

Defendant was released from CMC on August 31, 1981. Boyd had expected they would live together, but defendant moved in with Diane H., then flew to New York for three weeks in response to an Advocate ad, then returned to Los Angeles on an airplane ticket purchased by Boyd. Again, defendant lived with Diane.

Upon defendant's return to Los Angeles, Boyd told him about DeSousa. He mentioned in particular two valuable rings DeSousa had worn, and the two agreed to steal DeSousa's property. Boyd arranged a dinner for the three at DeSousa's home, to take place on Thursday, October 8. Before the meeting could occur, however, Boyd was arrested on petty theft charges and detained in the Los Angeles County Jail. He and defendant agreed that the latter would rearrange a meeting with DeSousa.

Boyd called DeSousa several times Saturday, October 10, and got no answer. He formed the opinion something had happened to DeSousa.

Boyd next spoke with defendant on Sunday morning, October 11, at the jail. Defendant was wearing two of DeSousa's rings and was holding DeSousa's keys. According to defendant, DeSousa had picked him up at the Disneyland Hotel on Saturday morning, and they had returned to DeSousa's condominium. When pressed for details on what had happened to DeSousa, defendant was initially reticent. Presently he said DeSousa would not be able to tell anyone that defendant had been at his home, then finally made a distinctive strangling gesture with his hands. Boyd noticed a scar and broken skin on defendant's knuckles. Defendant said he had worn socks over his hands to eliminate fingerprints. He explained he had placed luggage and other property belonging to DeSousa in a locker at the Greyhound bus depot in downtown Los Angeles.

On cross-examination, Boyd admitted he was upset by defendant's obvious intention, upon his release from CMC, not to resume their intimate relationship. Boyd also conceded he had told a defense investigator, David Carpenter, that a man named Charles murdered DeSousa. A reference to Charles as the killer also appeared in a letter from Boyd to defendant during the latter's detention in Orange County jail. At trial, Boyd claimed he made Charles up at defendant's urging.

Diane H. testified that defendant left her apartment by bus at 10 a.m. on October 10, saying he was going to Disneyland to meet a friend who owed him money. He had around $30 with him. About 5 p.m., defendant called to suggest they find a party to attend that evening, indicating that his friend had loaned him his car for the weekend. The background noise on the telephone gave the impression defendant was calling from a bar.

Defendant arrived at Diane's apartment half an hour later driving DeSousa's car. He was carrying about $200 in cash, which he said was some, but not all, the money the friend owed. Defendant expressed his intention to keep the car if the friend did not pay the remainder, and he asked Diane how to get a pink slip in his name.

Diane said she and defendant planned a drive to Chinatown on Sunday, October 11, after he returned from visiting Boyd in jail. Just as they were leaving for Chinatown, Diane answered the telephone; someone Diane believed was Boyd asked for defendant. After hanging up the phone, defendant said they would have to stop at the bus depot to pick up some things for "John." At the depot, defendant retrieved luggage and property belonging to DeSousa which was later discovered in Diane's apartment.

Diane also testified on cross-examination that she had a conversation with Boyd shortly after defendant's arrest. Boyd said he was going to go to the "D.A." with the truth and would have defendant out of custody "in no time."

Finally, the prosecution introduced calendars and notebooks found in DeSousa's apartment and containing entries in DeSousa's handwriting. Beginning in June 1981, these referred to "John" from "Pasadena," including a description matching Boyd's. On a notebook page dated October 7, 1981, DeSousa had written "James, L.A., Six Foot, 200, 29-inch waist, 29, coming Saturday in place of John."

B. Defense case.

Carl Holmes, defendant's prior attorney, testified that Boyd had contacted him by telephone on October 27, 1981, to ask how the case was going. Boyd then denied having told the police that defendant killed DeSousa. He claimed defendant had arrived at DeSousa's home to find him already dead. Holmes told Boyd an investigator would contact him; when Boyd called several weeks later trying to reach the investigator, Holmes advised that he was no longer the attorney of record.

David Carpenter, a defense investigator, testified that he spoke with Boyd on a number of occasions. Boyd asserted he had formed a plan with a man named Charles, whom he met at the Waldorf Bar, to go to DeSousa's house and "rip him off." Boyd said he had falsely accused defendant at the preliminary hearing as revenge for being "jilted." Carpenter did not attempt to locate Charles because Boyd's information, including his description of Charles, was "not of...

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