People v. Perez

Decision Date09 July 1992
Docket NumberNo. S021918,S021918
Citation2 Cal.4th 1117,9 Cal.Rptr.2d 577,831 P.2d 1159
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties, 831 P.2d 1159 The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Arthur Richard PEREZ, Defendant and Appellant.

Fern M. Laethem, State Public Defender, and William T. Lowe, Deputy State Public Defender, as amici curiae on behalf of defendant and appellant.

John K. Van de Kamp and Daniel E. Lungren, Attys. Gen., Richard B. Iglehart and George Williamson, Chief Asst. Attys. Gen., Harley D. Mayfield, Asst. Atty. Gen., Garrett Beaumont, Pat Zaharopoulos and Holly D. Wilkens, Deputy Attys. Gen., for plaintiff and respondent.

PANELLI, Justice.

We granted review in this case after a divided Court of Appeal reduced defendant's first degree murder conviction to second degree murder for insufficient evidence of premeditation and deliberation. As explained hereafter, we conclude that the judgment of the Court of Appeal should be reversed.


Defendant killed Victoria Mesa in her home in Garden Grove on the morning of September 30, 1988. There is no question that he was the perpetrator. The only question is the circumstances under which the murder occurred--that is, whether it was premeditated and deliberate.

Michael Mesa, the victim's husband, testified that he left for work about 5:40 a.m. on the morning of the murder, while Victoria was still asleep. As part of their morning ritual he would leave her a note and call her before she left for work. Victoria was four months' pregnant, and Michael was concerned about her condition. This was to be their first child after years of unsuccessful attempts to have a child. In order to protect the pregnancy, Victoria's cervix had been sewn shut, and she could not have sexual relations. Michael called Victoria the morning of the murder about 7:35 a.m., before she left for work. She usually left for work around 8 a.m. He heard the sound of an automobile engine running in the background. The engine could have been his wife's car.

A neighbor who generally left for work at the same time as Victoria noticed Victoria's car in the driveway with exhaust coming from it. He also noticed that the front door to the house was open. The neighbor thought that it was about 8:05 a.m. when he drove by.

Victoria's employer called Michael about 9:45 a.m. to tell him that Victoria had not come to work. Michael called a neighbor to ask her to check on Victoria. The neighbor enlisted the aid of a gas company meter reader who, upon approaching the house, found the front door slightly ajar; he entered, found Victoria's body, and immediately left to call the police.

Police officers arrived about 9:50 a.m. and found Victoria's fully clothed body lying face down with her arms under her head in the bathroom and her legs extending into the hallway. A broken dish and dog food were lying near the body. A six-inch blade of a serrated steak knife was found under Victoria's head. A broken piece of knife handle was near her feet. The wood appeared to be the same as the handles of knives in the kitchen drawer. There was no sign of a forced entry, and the only unlocked door was the front door.

There was a large pool of blood beneath Victoria's body and splatters all over the adjacent walls and carpet. Blood was found in every room except the nursery. There were blood drippings throughout the floor of the master bedroom. Dresser drawers were open, and drops of blood were on the clothing inside the drawers. Jewelry boxes were open and had drops of blood inside. There was blood on the sink in the master bathroom. Four Band-Aid The entire kitchen was peppered with blood spots. There were drops of blood on the refrigerator and counter top and smeared blood around the handles of cupboards and drawers. Many of the cupboards and drawers were open. There were drops of blood inside some of the drawers, including one containing knives.

[831 P.2d 1161] wrappers were lying on the counter; a folded Band-Aid saturated with blood was found in the entry of the master bedroom. A guest bedroom had bloodstains in the doorway of the room almost on a direct line with the light switch.

Victoria's purse was on top of a table in the kitchen. The contents of the purse were lying on the table. A removable car stereo was also on the table. All of the items had drops of blood on them.

The victim's husband found nothing missing from the house except for one of his dress shirts.

According to the pathologist who performed the autopsy, Victoria bled to death. She had sustained blunt force trauma to her eyes, nose and lips, probably from a fist. There were about 38 knife wounds, including 26 stab and slash wounds and 12 puncture wounds. There were deep stab and slash wounds about the head, face, and neck, in the carotid artery, around the spinal column, and on the back of the arms. There were defensive wounds on her forearms, wrists, and hands. The injuries to the front part of the body were inflicted before the injuries to the back of the body. Two different knives were used. Most of the wounds were inflicted by a single-blade knife consistent with the one found under the victim's body. Three wounds in the back were inflicted by a double-edged knife. These wounds appeared to have been inflicted after the victim was dead.

The only connection between defendant and the victim and her husband was that they had attended the same high school some 10 years earlier. Defendant had played sports with Michael Mesa. Defendant lived about two and a quarter miles away and would drive by the Mesa house about twice a week in the early evening and wave to Michael as the latter was working in the yard. Defendant's fingerprint was found on the wall in the hallway near the victim's body and on a bloody Band-Aid wrapper found in the master bathroom. Analysis of blood scrapings from the master bedroom, wall phone, kitchen floor, blood-soaked towel on the water cooler, and blood-soaked Band-Aid from the master bedroom revealed that they were consistent with 1 percent of the population, which includes defendant. To Michael Mesa's knowledge, defendant had never been in his house before.

Defendant's sister testified that he arrived home about 9 a.m. on the day of the murder. His hand was cut, and he was sweaty and pale. Defendant told her he had cut his hand on a saw. Defendant said he was going to drive to his father's jobsite. His sister offered to drive him, but defendant declined.

At 9:20 a.m. the same day, defendant was treated at a hospital emergency room for severe cuts on his right hand and smaller cuts on his left hand. Defendant told the nurse that he had cut himself with a Skil Saw. Based on her experience, the nurse did not believe that defendant's injury was the result of having been cut by a Skil Saw.

As a result of information learned from the hospital, police officers went to defendant's home that night. Defendant told the officers he had injured himself at a jobsite at a private residence in Anaheim while using a Skil Saw. Defendant was unable to show the officers where the jobsite was. Defendant's father produced for officers the shirt that Michael Mesa identified as the one missing from his house.

Defendant did not testify, and he made no statements about the offense. In argument, defense counsel challenged the sufficiency of the evidence of first degree murder and suggested that whoever killed Victoria had acted in a rage. The jury returned a verdict of guilty of first degree, premeditated and deliberate murder. As previously mentioned, a divided Court of Appeal reduced the conviction to second degree murder.

Sufficiency of Evidence of Premeditation and Deliberation

The People contend that the Court of Appeal erred in finding the evidence of premeditation and deliberation insufficient to support the judgment. Before proceeding to that question, we find it helpful to review the definition of premeditation and deliberation that was given to the jury, CALJIC No. 8.20, which we have found to be a correct statement of the law. (People v. Lucero (1988) 44 Cal.3d 1006, 1021, 245 Cal.Rptr. 185, 750 P.2d 1342.) CALJIC No. 8.20 defines premeditated and deliberate murder as follows:

"All murder which is perpetrated by any kind of willful, deliberate and premeditated killing with express malice aforethought is murder of the first degree.

"The word 'willful' as used in this instruction, means intentional.

"The word 'deliberate' means formed or arrived at or determined upon as a result of careful thought and weighing of considerations for and against the proposed course of action. The word 'premeditated' means considered beforehand.

"If you find that the killing was preceded and accompanied by a clear, deliberate intent on the part of the defendant to kill, which was the result of deliberation and premeditation, so that it must have been formed upon pre-existing reflection and not under a sudden heat of passion or other condition precluding the idea of deliberation, it is murder of the first degree.

"The law does not undertake to measure in units of time the length of the period during which the thought must be pondered before it can ripen into an intent to kill which is truly deliberate and premeditated. The time will vary with different individuals and under varying circumstances.

"The true test is not the duration of time, but rather the extent of the reflection. A cold, calculated judgment and decision may be arrived at in a short period of time, but a mere unconsidered and rash impulse, even though it included an intent to kill, is not such deliberation and premeditation as will fix an unlawful killing as murder of the first degree.

"To constitute a deliberate and premeditated killing, the slayer must weigh and consider the question of killing and the...

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