People v. Pearson, No. S058157.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Writing for the CourtCHIN
Citation56 Cal.4th 393,154 Cal.Rptr.3d 541,297 P.3d 793
PartiesThe PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Michael Nevail PEARSON, Defendant and Appellant.
Decision Date21 March 2013
Docket NumberNo. S058157.

56 Cal.4th 393
297 P.3d 793
154 Cal.Rptr.3d 541

The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
Michael Nevail PEARSON, Defendant and Appellant.

No. S058157.

Supreme Court of California

March 21, 2013.

[154 Cal.Rptr.3d 561]

Jeanne Keevan–Lynch, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for Defendant and Appellant.

Edmund G. Brown, Jr., and Kamala D. Harris, Attorneys General, Dane R. Gillette, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Gerald A. Engler and Ronald S. Matthias, Assistant Attorneys General, Alice B. Lustre, Glenn R. Pruden and Gregg E. Zywicke, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.


[56 Cal.4th 402][297 P.3d 809]A jury convicted defendant Michael Nevail Pearson of the first degree murders of Ruth Lorraine Talley and Barbara Garcia with personal use of a firearm and found true the multiple-murder special-circumstance allegation. (Pen.Code, §§ 187, 190.2, subd.(a)(3), former § 12022.5, subd. (a).) 1 After a penalty[297 P.3d 810]trial, the jury returned a verdict of death. The court denied the automatic motion to modify the verdict (§ 190.4, subd. (e)) and imposed that sentence. This appeal is automatic. (§ 1239, subd. (b).)

We affirm the judgment.

[56 Cal.4th 403]I. FACTS
A. Guilt Phase
1. Prosecution Evidence

a. Introduction

On the afternoon of Tuesday, April 25, 1995, defendant, a receptionist with the Conventional Housing division of the Richmond Housing Authority (RHA) was fired from his job because he had repeatedly threatened to “do a 101 California,” referring to the infamous 1993 massacre of numerous employees in a law office located at 101 California Street in San Francisco committed by Gian Luigi Ferri, a disgruntled client of the law firm.2 Minutes later, defendant hunted down and fatally shot two of his former coworkers, Lorraine Talley and Barbara Garcia. These facts were undisputed at trial. The sole issue for the jury to decide in the guilt phase was whether defendant premeditated and deliberated the murders.

[154 Cal.Rptr.3d 562]

b. Defendant's employment at the RHA and statements to coworkers before the murders

In January 1993, defendant began working in a temporary position for the City of Richmond in the Employment and Training Department. He worked for that department for a year and then his employment was terminated. In July 1994, defendant was hired in a temporary position as an office assistant with the Section 8 division of the RHA, which handled the federal rental subsidy program. After about six months, he was hired by the Conventional Housing division in a permanent position as a receptionist. The terms of his employment included a six-month probationary period, which was scheduled to terminate three days after the murders. Talley was defendant's supervisor.

Defendant chatted often with coworker Learinza Morris, and complained that he was treated unfairly and had a heavier workload than his coworkers. Defendant specifically mentioned Talley and Shirail Burton in making these complaints. About two months before the shootings, defendant mentioned to Morris that he had received a poor performance evaluation and that it was unjustified because “his work wasn't being evaluated properly—truthfully.” Defendant felt he was being “railroaded to a degree.” About three weeks before the shootings, defendant told Morris that he wanted to be transferred [56 Cal.4th 404]back to the Section 8 division of the RHA and that “[t]hey better not mess with me because there might be a 101 California.”

Some months before the shootings, while commuting to work, defendant told coworker Leona Kelly, “Well, I know one thing, she [Talley] tries to get rid of me or they try to get rid of me, it's going to be another 101 California.”

Defendant complained to Ronald Keeton, a housing project manager at the Conventional Housing division of RHA, that he was being treated unfairly at work. About two or three months before the shootings, defendant told Keeton, “I ought to pull a 101” or “if something happens to me, or if they get on me or make me quit my job or lose my job[,] there might be another 101 going on here.” Keeton believed defendant was joking.

On the Friday before the shootings, defendant approached Janet Robinson at her desk at the RHA and said, “Sometimes, you know, I feel like doing a 101 California Street here.” Robinson said, “No, no, you wouldn't do that Michael” and “If you do that, I'll lock myself in the safe.” Defendant assured her that he would not shoot her. He told her to not tell anyone about what he had said, claiming it was “just a joke.” Although Robinson was afraid to reveal the threat, she mentioned it to Garcia, who became terrified.

c. Defendant's termination

On the day of the shootings, Art Hatchett, the RHA's director, and Talley asked defendant[297 P.3d 811]to meet with them in Hatchett's office. Hatchett informed defendant that a decision had been made to terminate his employment at the end of his probationary period because his job performance was unsatisfactory. Defendant was asked to return his building keys and identification badge, and he did. Hatchett gave defendant his business card and offered to discuss employment opportunities with RHA and the city at some point in the future. Defendant was given his final paycheck, and Hatchett terminated the meeting, which had lasted about six minutes. Defendant was upset and close to tears, but appeared to be “in control of himself” and not “ enraged.” Hatchett had decided not to discuss the true reason for

[154 Cal.Rptr.3d 563]

defendant's termination, his threats to “do a 101 California.”

After the meeting, Hatchett walked to Patricia Jones's office and informed Jones that defendant had been fired. Earlier, Hatchett had told Jones and employees of the personnel department that he intended to fire defendant. They had arranged to have a police officer posted outside the building when Hatchett and Talley met with defendant to discuss his termination.

Hatchett returned to the reception area, where defendant was gathering his personal items at his desk. Defendant did not appear to be enraged, and [56 Cal.4th 405]Hatchett was not concerned that defendant would become violent. When defendant walked down the hallway, Hatchett followed him. Defendant confronted Talley in the office of Hatchett's secretary, Mary Martinez, where Talley had remained after the meeting. Defendant asked Talley if she would speak privately with him. By this point, Hatchett had arrived at Martinez's office, and he told defendant that they could meet again in his office. Hatchett, Talley, and defendant went to Hatchett's office, and defendant asked Talley whether “that was it.” Talley responded that, “if you are speaking of this job as a receptionist, yes, this is all.” Defendant continued to question Talley about his termination, asking her whether she thought it was fair. Talley did not respond to the question but stated that she was preparing to take vacation and that if defendant had further questions, he could discuss the matter with Hatchett. Talley spoke firmly but respectfully.

d. Talley's killing

After the second meeting, Hatchett walked with defendant back to the reception area. Hatchett followed defendant as he moved through the office. As defendant continued to gather his personal belongings, he appeared hurt and sad. Meanwhile, Talley returned to Martinez's office.

Defendant left the reception area but Hatchett did not follow him because he believed defendant was going to the restroom. Moments later, Hatchett was standing with housing project manager Ronald Keeton when he heard an employee screaming that defendant had a gun. He looked down the hall and saw a number of employees scrambling to leave the building. When Hatchett saw defendant running down the hallway holding a gun in his right hand, Hatchett ran outside the building to the parking lot.

Pamela Kime and Eric Spears were working in the conference room when they heard loud voices coming from the hallway. Defendant was arguing with Talley. He told her that he wanted to talk to her again, and she responded that she had said everything she wanted to say and that they had nothing further to talk about. Defendant's voice became louder as he asked, “You mean all of this work I've done is for nothing?” Talley repeated that she had nothing more to say, and defendant asked her, “So are you saying that all of the time I've spent here has been for nothing?” Talley opened the conference room door and yelled, “Go get Art [Hatchett]!” Defendant repeated his question, and Talley ran around the conference table and rushed past Kime.

Spears saw defendant reach for a gun from his coat, and said, “No, Michael, no Michael.” Defendant looked at Spears momentarily and shot Talley, who fell and slumped across a chair.

After Kime heard the first gunshot, she turned around in her chair and saw defendant standing over Talley, pointing his gun at her and saying, “I ain't no [56 Cal.4th 406]joke. I ain't no joke.” Defendant again looked at

[154 Cal.Rptr.3d 564]

Spears, shrugged his shoulders, and again shot Talley, who had not moved. Defendant held his arm straight out as he fired the shot.

[297 P.3d 812]As defendant left the conference room, Kime stood up. Defendant returned, pointed the gun at her, and told her to get back “because he wasn't no joke.” Kime sat down. Defendant lowered his gun and left the conference room. Kime checked on Talley, who was still alive with blood spurting from her neck. Spears tried unsuccessfully to call 911, and grabbed Kime, telling her they needed to get out of there. Kime decided to remain behind and try to stop the bleeding from Talley's neck.

e. Garcia's killing

After hearing the gunshots, Robinson, Garcia and housing specialist Shirail Burton ran into Jones's office. Burton climbed out a window. Another employee followed her. Robinson and Jones hid under the desk. Garcia ran behind Jones's desk and became trapped in a corner by a computer table, “so afraid that she was...

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