People v. Reyes

Decision Date17 September 1974
Docket NumberCr. 17592
Citation12 Cal.3d 486,526 P.2d 225,116 Cal.Rptr. 217
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties, 526 P.2d 225 The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Lawrence Michael REYES and Juan Francisco Venegas, Defendants and Appellants. In Bank

Clifford Douglas, under appointment by the Supreme Court, and Michael S. Bromberg, Los Angeles, for defendants and appellants.

Evelle J. Younger, Atty. Gen., Edward A. Hinz, Jr., Chief Asst. Atty. Gen., William E. James, Asst. Atty. Gen., Norman H. Sokolow and Bradley A. Stoutt, Deputy Attys. Gen., for plaintiff and respondent.

MOSK, Justice.

Defendants Lawrence Michael Reyes and Juan Francisco Venegas were charged by information with the crime of murder in the first degree (Pen.Code, §§ 187, 189). After trial by jury, each was found guilty and sentenced to the term prescribed by law. Upon review of the record, we affirm the judgment as to defendant Reyes, but conclude the evidence is insufficient to support the conviction of defendant Venegas.

Early in the morning of a rainy Christmas Day, 1971, William Staga was murdered in his apartment at 1208 Daisy Avenue in Long Beach. According to Dr. Joseph Choi of the Los Angeles County Coroner's office, death was caused by one of three separate blows administered to the victim's forehead with a blunt instrument. In addition to the head wounds, the victim suffered multiple lacerations on his wrists, back, lower abdomen, and genitals. Because the lacerations were shallow, uniform in length, and 'incise' rather than 'defense' wounds, Dr. Choi concluded they were intentionally inflicted while the victim was either unconscious or physically restrained in such a manner as to prevent him from writhing in response to the pain.

Henry Meade, the manager of the apartments in which the murder occurred, lived in a unit directly across from that of the victim. On the morning of the murder shortly before 7 a.m. he heard unfamiliar voices coming from the victim's apartment. Though unsure, he estimated there were two voices, neither of which he believed to belong to the victim. One of the voices repeated the words 'Turn over' twice in a 'command-like' tone. Meade dressed and left his apartment to investigate. As he approached the victim's apartment, a man carrying a television set came running out the door. Meade instructed him to return the television, but the man continued advancing and ran into Meade outside the apartment near the street. The television dropped to the ground, and the man escaped past Meade, who had been knocked down onto one knee. Meade arose and went to a nearby fire station for aid, where he described the man to police as a 'male Mexican, early 20's, 5 7 to 5 8 , medium build, approximately 135 pounds, medium length black hair, wearing a light colored shirt and dark trousers.' At trial Meade testified he believed Reyes may have been the man he encountered, but he was certain Venegas was not the man and that the man, unlike Venegas, did not have a beard.

Emily Mallas lived in the apartment building adjacent to the complex where the victim resided. Shortly before 7 a.m. she heard a loud voice say, 'Where the hell do you think you're goint with that?' and, 'Put it down' and, 'That's Bill's.' She looked out her window, saw 'two heads bobbing,' and heard the television set crash to the ground. The sound of footsteps followed, and a man ran up the walkway past her window between the two buildings. She described the man as approximately five feet six inches in height, with a dark complexion, dark hair, and no beard. He was wearing a red and white short-sleeve knit shirt and tan pants. Although she identified Venegas at the preliminary hearing as the man who ran past her window, at trial she was positive the man in fact was Reyes.

Marilyn Stoelje lived in the same apartment building as Emily Mallas. She also went to her window when she heard the confrontation between Meade and the man with the television set. At trial she identified Reyes without question as the man who escaped past Meade outside the victim's apartment.

Melba Penn lived across the street from the victim's apartment. About 6:50 a.m. she left her home to bring in the newspaper and noticed a light blue Plymouth automobile parked on the street across a driveway with its door open. Upon returning inside her home, she heard the sound of shouting and a loud crash of breaking glass. She looked out her window and witnessed what appeared to be an argument between Meade and a young man whose back was turned to her. The young man walked to the Plymouth and placed his hands on the open door. Then, while Meade proceeded to the fire station, the young man disappeared on foot between two buildings. Though able to view the man only from the back and side, she described him at trial as dark completed, with long black hair and either a beard or a scarf, and wearing a brown coat. She was unable to identify Reyes or Venegas, but testified Venegas more closely resembled the man she saw that morning because of his longer hair.

Officer Alvin Vanotterloo arrived at the victim's apartment at 7:12 a.m. Inside a fireman was administering first aid for the victim's head wounds and lacerations. Blood was located on the top rim of the bathtub, which contained several articles of the victim's clothing in a half inch of brownish water. In an alley to the rear of the victim's apartment Officer Vanotterloo found the head of a hammer with part of its wooden handle still intact. On the hammer was discovered blood and a grey fleshy matter similar to the substance exuding from the victim's head wound. The other part of the hammer handle was found about 15 feet from the Plymouth automobile, near the site where the television had fallen to the ground. The automobile, registered in the name of Reyes, revealed no indications of having been stolen or tempered with in any way. Officer Vanotterloo's partner recorded a description of the man Meade confronted and broadcast it over police radio.

John Sanderson, a bartender at the Royal Club Bar at 948 Daisy Avenue, testified Reyes and Venegas were in his bar for approximately 10 or 15 minutes shortly after 7 a.m. He could not be certain of the time because the clocks in his bar were customarily set about 10 minutes fast. While in the bar Venegas ordered two beers and Reyes went briefly to the telephone. On cross-examination Sanderson admitted he was not wearing his prescription lenses that morning and he had only two or three seconds to observe Reyes and Venegas because he was busy with other customers.

Shortly before 7:30 a.m. Officers Borsos and Wagner, who had just left the scene of the crime, were flagged down by Reyes and Venegas near a phone booth on the corner of Tenth Street and Daisy Avenue. Reyes told the officers he had been attempting to call the police to report the theft of his automobile. Officer Borsos recognized Reyes' name as matching the one on the registration of the Plymouth found in front of the victim's apartment and also noted that Reyes fit the description of the suspect broadcast earlier over the radio. At the request of the officers, Reyes and Venegas entered the police car and were driven back to the victim's apartment for 'elimination purposes.' After talking with homicide detectives, however, the officers decided against showing the suspects to the witnesses. At the time he was taken into custody, Reyes was wearing a red and white short-sleeved shirt, dark Levi blue jeans, and a hat. Venegas was wearing a light blue shirt, dark blue corduroy pants, and a three-quarter length brown jacket.

Officer Robert Bell accompanied Sergeant Skaggs to Reyes' residence and obtained consent to search from Reyes' wife. Under a pile of dirty clothes Officer Bell found a pair of tan corduroy pants with blood stains on the left pocket and leg. Sergeant Skaggs found a wallet containing the victim's identification but no money.

Reyes' palm print was located on a wall in the victim's apartment, and Reyes had fresh abrasions on his right hand at the time he was arrested. Venegas' left thumb print was taken from the passenger window of the Plymouth, but none of Venegas' finger or palm prints were discovered inside the victim's apartment and there were no blood stains on any of his clothes. When he was arrested Venegas displayed no abrasions or other signs of struggle on his body.

Deborah Routh lived in the apartment building next to that of the victim. On Christmas Eve at approximately 4 p.m. she had a brief conversation with the victim and noticed two men who may have been Reyes and Venegas standing in the victim's doorway with a liquor bottle. Sometime before dawn on the morning of the murder she heard a loud crashing noise followed by a voice she ascribed to a neighbor, Standford Jones, saying, 'Don't hurt Bill anymore, don't hit him anymore.' She was unable, however, to identify Jones in the courtroom and admitted she did not recognize him once he was pointed out to her though they had lived in adjacent buildings for a period of years. According to several neighbors the witness had a poor reputation in the community for truth and veracity and was often in a state of intoxication. Sergeant Skaggs had spoken with the witness shortly after the murder and had given little credence at that time to the events she related.

At trial Reyes confessed to the killing and totally exonerated Venegas. His defense was diminished capacity. He testified he was with his wife at a market in Wilmington at 4 p.m. on Christmas Eve and not with Venegas or the victim. About 7:30 p.m. that evening he went to a party at his father's home where he consumed a great deal of alcohol, took two 'reds' around 2:30 a.m., and smoked one marijuana cigarette. Between 4 and 6 a.m. he left the party in his father's Plymouth and drove with his wife and Venegas to his home in Long Beach. In front of his residence he noticed a truck with hubcaps which he wanted to...

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