People v. Pinholster

Decision Date20 February 1992
Docket NumberCR23781,No. S004616,S004616
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties, 824 P.2d 571 The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Scott Lynn PINHOLSTER, Defendant and Appellant.

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William B. Chapman, under appointment by the Supreme Court, Rogers, Joseph, O'Donnell & Quinn, Mark A. White, Kyra A. Subbotin and Connie M. Teevan, San Francisco, for defendant and appellant.

John K. Van de Kamp and Daniel E. Lungren, Attys. Gen., Richard B. Iglehart and George Williamson, Chief Asst. Attys. Gen., Edward T. Fogel and Carol Wendelin Pollack, Asst. Attys. Gen., Thomas L. Willhite, Jr., William T. Harter and Kristofer Jorstad, Deputy Attys. Gen., for plaintiff and respondent.

MOSK, Justice.

Defendant Scott Lynn Pinholster was convicted by a jury of first degree murder (Pen.Code, § 187) 1 of Thomas Johnson and Robert Beckett. The jury found true two multiple-murder special-circumstance allegations (§ 190.2, subd. (a)(3)) and allegations that each murder was committed during the perpetration of a robbery and a burglary. (§ 190.2, subd. (a)(17)(i), (vii).) The jury also found as to each count that defendant personally used a knife. (§ 12022, subd. (b).) The jury returned the same verdicts and findings against codefendant Paul David Brown. In addition, the jury convicted defendant of burglary of the residence of Michael Kumar (§ 459), robbery of Johnson and Beckett (§ 211), with intentional infliction of great bodily injury and personal use of a knife (§§ 12022.7, 12022, subd. (b)). Defendant

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was convicted separately of the robbery of Todd Croutch (§ 211), and the jury found true an allegation that he was armed with a firearm (§ 12022, subd. (a)).

The jury fixed the penalty at death. 2 This appeal is automatic. We conclude that one multiple-murder special circumstance should be set aside, and the judgment otherwise is affirmed.

A. Guilt Phase
1. Prosecution Case

In May 1981, defendant and another man robbed the Encino home of drug dealer Todd Croutch at gunpoint. Todd's parents and brothers were forced to lie on the living room floor while defendant demanded Todd's drugs and money, holding a cocked pistol to his head. Defendant threatened to kill Mrs. Croutch. During an ensuing search of defendant's residence, credit cards belonging to the Croutches were seized. Todd Croutch received a threatening phone call a month after the robbery. Todd believed the caller was defendant, and reported that defendant said he would kill Todd and his family if he testified. Defendant admitted committing the robbery.

In mid-December 1981, according to the testimony of Charles Kempf, defendant suggested to Kempf and three others that they rob Michael Kumar, a drug dealer who lived in Tarzana, and someone defendant considered "an easy mark." Once at the Kumar home, Kempf walked to the rear and formed the impression that no one was home. The would-be robbers waited, preferring to accost Kumar and force him to admit them rather than break in. Defendant said, holding a buck knife in his hand, that he would get the drugs out of Kumar "one way or the other." Kempf also reported that defendant bragged that he had stabbed someone in the rectum during another robbery. Kempf and another cohort, Richard Crane, backed out of the plan and the men drove off. Kempf had previously been convicted of receiving stolen property and was under arrest when he first told the authorities of these events. He asserted that he had received no promise of leniency or other benefits in return for his testimony.

In the early morning hours of January 9, 1982, Thomas Johnson and Robert Beckett were stabbed to death as they returned to the home of Michael Kumar in Tarzana, where they were housesitting.

Defendant's accomplice, Art Corona, testified that defendant, with whom he was acquainted, and he were at a social gathering in defendant's Van Nuys apartment complex on the evening of January 8, 1982. Defendant solicited his participation in what was to be a robbery of Kumar. Defendant anticipated forcing entry into Kumar's home and taking marijuana, cocaine and money. Corona agreed and, using his own car, drove defendant and codefendant Brown toward Kumar's home. Defendant directed Corona to stop at the home of a woman who would help them gain entry to Kumar's home. At the woman's home, defendant went to the door but was refused entry twice. Defendant, who wore a buck knife in a leather sheath on his belt, as did the two other men, then stuck his knife through the door and scratched the hood of a nearby car with his knife.

Corona's testimony regarding this incident was corroborated by Lisa Tapar, her father, and another witness. Ms. Tapar was acquainted with both defendant and Kumar, and had the impression defendant planned to steal from Kumar. She reported that defendant arrived at her home between 12:30 and 2 a.m. on January 9, 1982, that she refused him entry, that he stabbed the front door with a knife, and then apparently inscribed her car with a swastika and lightning bolts.

Corona testified that on their arrival at the Kumar home, defendant knocked on the front door, then forcibly opened a side gate and broke a window at the rear of the home. Finding the back door could not be opened without a key, codefendant Brown found an open sliding glass door and they

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entered. They ransacked the house. Corona helped to stack stereo equipment in the living room. Defendant took a small amount of marijuana from a bedroom, and spilled a green substance in the kitchen. They heard a car arrive and saw two people approach. One opened the door and exclaimed that the police should be called. The burglars decided to leave, and Corona led the way to the sliding glass doors. The two victims, Johnson and Beckett, then came around the back. When Johnson tried to enter the house, defendant came around Corona and struck Johnson in the chest three or four times. Defendant backed him out of the house and onto the patio, demanding drugs and money and repeatedly striking him. Johnson dropped his wallet on the ground and obeyed defendant's order to sit. Then Beckett approached, and defendant attacked him. Corona saw that defendant was stabbing Beckett, striking him in the chest as Corona had seen defendant strike Johnson. Defendant repeatedly stabbed Beckett, again demanding money and drugs. Defendant picked up Johnson's wallet and took a wallet from Beckett's pocket. Defendant repeatedly kicked Beckett in the head. Corona then saw codefendant Brown stabbing Johnson in the chest. The three men withdrew, and Corona drove them back to defendant's apartment. Brown and defendant commented that they had "gotten them good," and Brown said he had "buried his knife to the hilt" in Johnson.

On their arrival at defendant's apartment, defendant washed his knife. Corona's wife Casey was present. A woman named Debbie arrived and cleaned Brown's knife. Defendant split the proceeds of the robbery: $23 and a quarter-ounce of marijuana. Corona and his wife took Brown to a motel on Sepulveda Boulevard.

The next day defendant called Corona and directed him to "lie low." Two weeks later, Casey told Corona that the police were looking for him. Having talked to his brother Caesar, and Casey's mother and sister, Corona turned himself in. At the station, he waived his rights and gave a statement basically consistent with his trial testimony, except that he did not mention that he had seen Brown stab Johnson, and he did not mention taking his share of the loot when it was divided.

Casey Corona corroborated her husband's testimony about embarking on the robbery, and his testimony regarding returning to defendant's apartment and washing the knives and splitting the proceeds. She observed what appeared to be blood washing off defendant's knife. She heard defendant say: "It had to be done the way it was done. We had to do what we had to do." Art Corona later commented in Casey Corona's hearing that defendant had "gone crazy." Casey Corona had recently been arrested on a drug charge and had received some assistance from the prosecutor in entering a diversion program.

Before the preliminary hearing, according to Corona, defendant was on the county jail bus to court with Corona, and threatened to kill him if he, Corona, testified against defendant. Defendant advised Corona to assert his privilege against self-incrimination or face being blown up on his way to court. Defendant threatened Corona on several subsequent occasions.

Corona's credibility was impeached with his prior burglary conviction and his admission that he was a professional burglar who occasionally used heroin. He was to plead guilty to burglary and a violation of section 32 at the conclusion of the trial.

Physical evidence confirmed that defendant had been present in the Kumar house after it was ransacked. His palm print, smudged with green plant food, was found in one of the bedrooms. The owner stated that to his knowledge, defendant had never been in his house. Corona testified that defendant was wearing jeans and boots during the crime. In a search of defendant's apartment, police found boots that could have made a print in a pool of blood at the scene of the murders. The boots showed microscopic traces of human blood, as did a towel found in the apartment. A pair of jeans had a bloodstain on them as well, but having been washed, they were not tested to determine if the blood was

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human. Codefendant Brown was arrested in possession of a buck knife with dimensions that corresponded to one of the stab wounds inflicted on Thomas Johnson. Near the hilt of the knife criminalists discovered traces of human blood. There were no traces of blood on Art Corona's buck knife, but there was human blood on the inside forearm of the sleeve of a shirt seized from Art Corona.

Police witnesses testified that the...

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