People v. Parson, S056765.

Citation44 Cal.4th 332,79 Cal.Rptr.3d 269,187 P.3d 1
Decision Date10 July 2008
Docket NumberNo. S056765.,S056765.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
PartiesThe PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Richard Ray PARSON, Defendant and Appellant.
187 P.3d 1
79 Cal.Rptr.3d 269
44 Cal.4th 332
The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
Richard Ray PARSON, Defendant and Appellant.
No. S056765.
Supreme Court of California.
July 10, 2008.

[187 P.3d 6]

Pamala Sayasane, San Francisco, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for Defendant and Appellant.

Bill Lockyer and Edmund G. Brown. Jr., Attorneys General, Robert R. Anderson, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Mary Jo Graves, Assistant Attorney General, Eric L. Christoffersen and Charles A. French, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.


Defendant Richard Ray Parson was convicted by a jury of one count of first degree murder (Pen.Code, § 187, subd. (a)),1 one count of first degree robbery (§ 211), and one count of first degree burglary (§ 459). The jury found true the allegation that defendant personally used a deadly and dangerous weapon in the commission of the murder (§ 12022, subd. (b)), as well as the special circumstances that the murder was committed while defendant was engaged in robbery and burglary (§ 190.2, subd. (a)(17)). At a bench trial, the court found true five prior conviction and prior prison term allegations for purposes of sentence enhancement. At the penalty phase, the jury returned a verdict of death. Appeal to this court is automatic. (§ 1239, subd. (b).)

As we explain below, we find no prejudicial error at the guilt or penalty phase of defendant's trial. We therefore affirm the judgment in its entirety.


A. The Guilt Phase

Theresa Schmiedt was a 59-year-old convalescent hospital nurse who lived by herself in an apartment complex in Sacramento, California. On the morning of January 2, 1994, she was found murdered in her living room. She had died from blunt craniocerebral trauma caused by multiple hammer blows to her head.

1. The Prosecution Case

Defendant and Theresa Schmiedt knew each other before the murder. According to the prosecution, defendant was a longtime drug abuser who sometimes spent as much as $500 a day on drugs, and the need to support his drug habit motivated him to kill Schmiedt. The prosecution's case included the testimony of Schmiedt's neighbors and defendant's ex-wife, forensic and other physical evidence, and evidence of defendant's own statements and admissions.

Around 8:30 p.m. on January 1, 1994, Schmiedt spoke with her daughter, Mary Pendergrass, by telephone. Schmiedt expressed fear during the telephone call and spoke of calling the police because "`[t]he crazy man was on his way over with a large sum of money.'" Although Pendergrass was not sure that Schmiedt mentioned defendant by name, she understood her mother to be talking about Richard Parson.

Around 10:00 o'clock that same night, Patricia Clark was in her apartment unit directly below Schmiedt's unit, when she heard Schmiedt allow a male visitor in. Once the

187 P.3d 7

visitor was inside, Clark heard footsteps in Schmiedt's kitchen area and subsequently heard "a lot of fast, shuffling-type footsteps" sounding like dancing. About 15 or 20 minutes after the visitor's arrival, Clark heard the springs squeaking in Schmiedt's recliner chair and then a single "thump" sound.2 After the thump, Clark heard no other noises in Schmiedt's apartment. As far as Clark could tell, Schmiedt was not in distress, and nothing was wrong upstairs.

When Schmiedt did not report to work the next day, her employer asked Jennie Treiger, the assistant manager at the apartment complex, to check in on Schmiedt. Treiger entered Schmiedt's unit and found her body curled up in a fetal position in a recliner chair, which had been tipped backward. There were bloodstains on the nurse's uniform Schmiedt was wearing, and her hair was matted with blood.

Dr. Gregory Reiber, who performed the autopsy, testified that Schmiedt died from blunt craniocerebral trauma caused by 18 or more blows to her head from an instrument such as a hammer. The area of the skull surrounding her left ear had been shattered open, and the skull had been fragmented into multiple pieces. The damage had left her brain tissue exposed, her left ear nearly severed, and her lower jaw fractured. Dr. Reiber also found scraping and bruising around the front side of Schmiedt's neck, a fractured hyoid bone, and petechial hemorrhaging in her right eye, which were consistent with manual strangulation. Both of Schmiedt's forearms were fractured and extensively bruised, indicating she attempted to defend against the blows to her head.

Bank cameras recorded defendant's presence at various automated transfer machines (ATM's) in the early morning hours of January 2, 1994, as Sherri Knowles and Christina Quintana attempted to withdraw money from Schmiedt's accounts using her ATM card. Three withdrawals, each in the amount of $40, were made at a First Interstate Bank ATM in Stockton. Several withdrawal attempts were made at a Wells Fargo Bank ATM in Stockton, but only one successful withdrawal of $100 occurred. Other unsuccessful withdrawal attempts were made at a Bank of the West ATM. The following day, additional withdrawals totaling $260 were made from Schmiedt's Wells Fargo Bank account. On January 3, 1994, defendant was with his friend, Jeanne Maccrone, when he attempted to cash a $500 check from Schmiedt's account.

On the evening of January 4, 1994, defendant checked into the National 9 Motel in Gilroy, California. The next day, defendant's car remained in the motel parking lot, but he had disappeared without checking out or paying to extend his stay. The motel manager called the Gilroy police, whose arrival at the motel was followed by that of county and federal authorities. Various items of evidence were seized from defendant's motel room, including the victim's purse and her credit cards, driver's license, checkbook, and checks, as well as defendant's clothing and other personal effects, a hammer, an athletic bag, marijuana, a syringe, heroin, and sixth-tenths of a gram of methamphetamine. The hammer had traces of human blood, and defendant's ex-wife, Josephine Parson, testified the hammer looked like the one she earlier placed in a toolbox in defendant's car. A search of defendant's car produced a suitcase that contained miscellaneous legal papers, some bearing his name.

At Schmiedt's apartment, prints matching defendant's fingerprints were found on a coffee cup, a Dairy Queen cup, and a wallboard. Prints matching his fingerprints also appeared on a piece of paper from a yellow legal pad. Human blood was found in the kitchen sink and on the living room wall.

On January 7, 1994, an arrest warrant for defendant was issued in Sacramento County. On January 10, United States Marshals placed him on their list of "top 15 most-wanted fugitives."

Around midnight on January 12, 1994, defendant telephoned the home of Lawanna Tomason, a female acquaintance, and he asked to speak with their mutual friend, Jeanne Maccrone. Tomason thought defendant sounded nervous. Before Tomason

187 P.3d 8

called Maccrone to the phone, defendant told her, "`Remember what I said I was going to do? ... Well, I did it, but I lost everything in the process.'" He then asked Tomason if the police had been by. When she said no, he replied, "`[w]ell, they'll be coming by.'" Tomason had no idea what defendant was talking about, but assumed he was referring to a bank robbery because he mentioned in a prior conversation that he would repay her and Maccrone back for their kindness.

On January 17, 1994, defendant was arrested in Vancouver, Washington. He appeared to be on drugs at the time. After his arrest, defendant telephoned his ex-wife, Josephine Parson. During that call, she asked defendant what happened. He replied, "`A lot of madness'" and "`I guess they'll put me in the electric chair.'" When she asked defendant if what happened was "`[b]ecause she wouldn't give you the money,'" he responded, "`[s]omething like that.'"

On April 5, 1994, Josephine Parson visited defendant at the Sacramento County Jail. During their tape recorded conversation, she told him she would tell the truth regarding her knowledge of the case. Defendant replied, "`[t]he truth ain't going to work in this case.'"

While incarcerated in the Sacramento County Jail, defendant referred to his murder of a woman in a note he sent to fellow inmate Tyler Jameson: "I understand your rage in being fucked over by your lady, my situation was of a similiar [sic] nature except the bitch tried to burn me for not smoking her ex-husband! When I went to get my money she got crazy + I had to shut her up, a robbery became a 187 + here I am in this madness—Anyway, thanks for helping with the bond money to Jay for my friend, I'll be repaying you as soon as possible—Rip this kite up + flush." The note indicated that "Jay" was a reference to Josephine Parson.

2. The Defense Case

The defense conceded that defendant rendered the blows that killed Schmiedt, but contended he did not intend to kill her when he entered her apartment. Defendant had been using methamphetamine extensively during this time period. He went to Schmiedt's apartment to charm or con money out of her in order to support his drug habit, and he entered her home as an invited guest. While there, he caught Schmiedt looking at his list of personal contacts that he had kept in his wallet, and he became convinced she was working with law enforcement to apprehend him. His drug-induced paranoia caused him to become enraged and beat her uncontrollably with the hammer. After Schmiedt died, defendant panicked and fled the scene, taking her purse with him.

B. The Penalty Phase

1. The Prosecution Case

The prosecution relied on the circumstances of the underlying murder in advocating for the death penalty.

The prosecution also presented evidence of the following 10 prior felony convictions: (1) an October 1983 federal conviction for conspiracy to introduce a narcotic drug into a prison; (2) an October 1983 federal conviction for using a...

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