People v. Roberts, No. S004550

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Writing for the CourtMOSK; LUCAS
Citation2 Cal.4th 271,826 P.2d 274,6 Cal.Rptr.2d 276
Parties, 826 P.2d 274 The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Larry H. ROBERTS, Defendant and Appellant. Crim. 23152.
Decision Date23 March 1992
Docket NumberNo. S004550

Page 276

6 Cal.Rptr.2d 276
2 Cal.4th 271, 826 P.2d 274
The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
Larry H. ROBERTS, Defendant and Appellant.
No. S004550.
Crim. 23152.
Supreme Court of California,
In Bank.
March 23, 1992.
As Modified on Denial of Rehearing May 20, 1992.

Page 285

[2 Cal.4th 294] [826 P.2d 283] Dennis P. Riordan and George J. Cotsirilos, Jr., under appointments by the Supreme Court, Riordan & Rosenthal, San Francisco, Nina Rivkind, Berkeley, Karen Snell, Breakstone & Cotsirilos, Cotsirilos & Campisano and Guy A. Campisano, Jr., San Francisco, for defendant and appellant.

John K. Van de Kamp and Daniel E. Lungren, Attys. Gen., Steve White, Richard B. Iglehart and George Williamson, Chief Asst. Attys. Gen., John H. Sugiyama, Asst. Atty. Gen., Herbert F. Wilkinson, Charles R.B. Kirk, Dane R. Gillette and Ronald S. Matthias, Deputy Attys. Gen., for plaintiff and respondent.

MOSK, Justice.

Defendant was charged with, and found guilty by a jury of, the following offenses: the first degree murders of Charles Gardner, a fellow prison inmate, and Albert Patch, a correctional officer (Pen.Code, § 187); 1 conspiracy to commit murder (§ 182); assault by a life prisoner resulting in death (§ 4500); and possession of a weapon by an inmate (§ 4502). The jury also found true special circumstance allegations that defendant had previously been convicted of first degree murder (§ 190.2, subd. (a)(2)), that he had committed multiple murders (§ 190.2, subd. (a)(3)), and that he had lain in wait to kill Gardner (§ 190.2, subd. (a)(15)). He was sentenced to death for the murder of Gardner and for the violation of section 4500, and to life imprisonment without possibility of parole for Patch's killing. A codefendant, Archie Menefield, was found guilty in a joint trial of similar charges stemming from the same incident, and was sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of parole.

For reasons that will appear, the judgment is reversed with regard to the murder of Patch. The multiple-murder special-circumstance finding is set aside. In all other respects, the judgment is affirmed.

I. FACTS

A. THE GUILT PHASE.

Early on the morning of August 17, 1980, Charles Gardner, an inmate at the

Page 286

[826 P.2d 284] California Medical Facility, Vacaville, walked down a first-floor corridor as his fellow inmates lounged against the walls on both sides. He emerged [2 Cal.4th 295] with 11 stab wounds that would shortly prove to be fatal. Nevertheless, he was able to grab a knife that an assailant had left on the floor. In pursuit of Menefield, Gardner ran or staggered some distance up a flight of stairs to the second floor, where he plunged the knife into the chest of a prison guard, Officer Patch. Patch died within the hour at the prison clinic, Gardner shortly afterward.

Two issues dominated the trial: the identity of Gardner's murderer or murderers, and Gardner's mental state when he attacked Patch.

The prosecution sought to prove defendant killed Gardner. It offered evidence to support two scenarios, both based on a theory that Gardner was killed in a gang dispute. One possibility was that defendant and Menefield planned to kill Gardner as part of a conflict among members of the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF), a prison gang. Gardner was the protege of Ruben Williams, the Vacaville BGF leader, with whom defendant disagreed over gang tactics. However, there was evidence that cast doubt on this possibility: defendant may have obtained the prison-made knife with which he stabbed Gardner from Williams himself. The other possibility was that defendant stabbed Gardner because he had called him a "punk nigger" in the prison yard and thereby showed disrespect to a fellow BGF member. "Punk" is prison jargon for a passive homosexual. There was testimony that the term is a serious insult to many inmates, and was intolerable to defendant.

Inmates testified they saw defendant stab Gardner repeatedly and saw Menefield restrain Gardner when he tried to escape. After the incident, witness Cade was sent to maximum security for fighting with another inmate and spoke with defendant, who was being held there as a suspect. Cade testified defendant told him that he had done the deed. Cade further testified that defendant said Gardner wanted to withdraw from the BGF and had threatened another inmate, and that Williams had ordered a "move on him" if Gardner posed a threat to the inmate. According to Cade, defendant also said that after he attacked Gardner defendant ran to the third floor. Another inmate testified that he heard Menefield and defendant argue about the assault after it took place. According to that inmate, defendant asked, "Why didn't you pick up the knife?" Menefield assertedly replied, "Because I was running right behind you up the stairs." Inmate Long testified that he saw defendant stab Gardner and then run up to the third floor.

In response, defendant introduced evidence that the prosecution's key witnesses--inmates Long, Hayes, Cade, and Rooks--had won benefits from the state that gave them a motive to lie. Defendant also contended that witnesses had been housed together and had had a chance to reconcile their testimony.

[2 Cal.4th 296] Defendant did not testify at the guilt phase. He sought to prove that he was on the third floor when Gardner was stabbed. There was evidence that he had been seen at that location just after an alarm had sounded as a result of the attack and that it was impossible for him to have made his way there from the first floor in time. For its part, the prosecution introduced evidence that an agile person could run from the first floor to certain key locations in seconds and walk briskly to defendant's cell in less than one minute, and that defendant could have done so unseen.

Defendant also sought to prove that the stabbing of Gardner was not the proximate cause of his death: there was evidence that Gardner was relatively well physically on arrival at the prison clinic and died as a result of incompetent medical care.

As for Patch's killing, there was evidence that Gardner, though failing rapidly, pursued Menefield up the stairs to the second floor. Prison guards hearing the commotion rushed toward the two, seizing Menefield and, in the case of Patch, trying to secure Gardner. Gardner then stabbed Patch.

[826 P.2d 285] The prosecution presented expert testimony to support its theory that Gardner

Page 287

fell rapidly into shock from loss of blood after his stabbing and became an unconscious agent of defendant. Prison workers described Gardner as a well-behaved inmate with no innate desire to attack a guard. Defendant introduced evidence that Gardner intended to stab Patch to exact revenge on his keepers, whom he hated, and that when he attacked Patch he was physically capable of thinking for himself and merely took advantage of the opportunity presented by having a knife in hand.

B. THE PENALTY PHASE.

In aggravation, the People introduced evidence of prior violent criminal activity and a prior felony conviction. In 1970, on his 17th birthday, defendant shot and killed a high school security guard, Obidee Cowart, and was convicted of first degree murder. There was also evidence of continuing BGF membership found in defendant's cell at Soledad Prison, including a note addressed to defendant in Menefield's handwriting saying that a possible witness to Gardner's stabbing would have to be killed. Further, defendant had stabbed three inmates besides Gardner and had been caught with the paraphernalia of violence in prison.

Defendant testified at the penalty phase. In mitigation, he presented evidence bearing on background and character. He grew up virtually without social and emotional support. He was the eldest of five siblings, each of [2 Cal.4th 297] whom had a different father. His mother, an abusive alcoholic, was 15 when she gave birth to him; she never lived with defendant's father. When she drank she would neglect the children; she and the man she lived with for 13 years would burn and stab each other in front of them. Defendant would steal food for his siblings when his mother's welfare money went to buy alcohol. Defendant grew up in a dreary section of the Watts neighborhood in Los Angeles; when he was 12, his family moved to a notoriously dangerous housing project.

Defendant testified that he had not intended to kill Cowart but had acted instinctively in self-defense after the latter had pulled a gun on him. He also stated that he fell out with the BGF over its practice of assaulting people who disobeyed its rules or policies. For that reason, he said, the gang tried twice to have him killed. He learned that an inmate named Lynch had ordered a BGF attack on him, and stabbed him in revenge. He wanted to escape the BGF but had to maintain an appearance of continued adherence lest he be killed for trying to quit. He could not completely disassociate himself from the BGF until he was sent to Tehachapi Correctional Institution, a transfer he earned by good behavior. He testified that he had earned a high school equivalency degree and had taken college correspondence courses.

II. GUILT PHASE ISSUES

A. EVIDENTIARY ISSUES.

1. Introduction of Evidence of Gang Membership and Activity.

In a motion in limine, codefendant Menefield, on behalf of both defendants, sought a hearing to exclude evidence of the defendants' gang membership, apparently on grounds of relevance. The court allowed the testimony to be introduced at trial. Defendant now contends the evidence was irrelevant and substantially more prejudicial than probative.

Defendant concedes, however, that the court apparently never ruled explicitly on the motion in limine, but noted only in passing during a hearing on another matter that it thought such evidence was relevant to motive and identity. Nor does the record reveal an objection at trial. Because defendant failed to obtain a pretrial ruling on the issue and did...

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411 practice notes
  • People v. Eid, No. G041759.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • 19 d4 Agosto d4 2010
    ...836 [299 P.2d 243]," i.e., whether the error resulted in a reasonable probability of a less favorable outcome. ( People v. Roberts (1992) 2 Cal.4th 271, 326, 6 Cal.Rptr.2d 276, 826 P.2d 274.) In this context, "reasonable probability" means " 'merely a reasonable chance, more than an abstrac......
  • People v. Briscoe, No. A086570.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • 26 d3 Setembro d3 2001
    ...murder liability attaches or not. (People v. Gardner, supra, 37 Cal.App.4th at p. 479, 43 Cal.Rptr.2d 603; see People v. Roberts (1992) 2 Cal.4th 271, 321, 6 Cal. Rptr.2d 276, 826 P.2d 274, cert. den. 506 U.S. 964, 113 S.Ct. 436, 121 L.Ed.2d 356; see also People v. Cervantes, supra, 26 Cal.......
  • People v. Metters, No. A074986
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • 10 d2 Março d2 1998
    ...decision to dismiss a juror regardless Page 317 of whether the juror was holding out for acquittal. (See, e.g., People v. Roberts (1992) 2 Cal.4th 271, 324-325, 6 Cal.Rptr.2d 276, 826 P.2d 274 [employing deferential standard of review where defendant submits posttrial proof of dismissed jur......
  • Dominguez v. Trimble, 1:11-CV-01491 GSA HC
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
    • 21 d1 Maio d1 2012
    ...is generally inadmissible to prove a person's conduct on a specific occasion. (Evid.Code, § 1101, subd. (a).)" (People v. Roberts (1992) 2 Cal.4th 271, 300.) However, subdivision (a) of section 1103 provides an exception to the exception: "In a criminal action, evidence of the character or ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
411 cases
  • People v. Eid, No. G041759.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • 19 d4 Agosto d4 2010
    ...836 [299 P.2d 243]," i.e., whether the error resulted in a reasonable probability of a less favorable outcome. ( People v. Roberts (1992) 2 Cal.4th 271, 326, 6 Cal.Rptr.2d 276, 826 P.2d 274.) In this context, "reasonable probability" means " 'merely a reasonable chance, more than an abstrac......
  • People v. Briscoe, No. A086570.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • 26 d3 Setembro d3 2001
    ...murder liability attaches or not. (People v. Gardner, supra, 37 Cal.App.4th at p. 479, 43 Cal.Rptr.2d 603; see People v. Roberts (1992) 2 Cal.4th 271, 321, 6 Cal. Rptr.2d 276, 826 P.2d 274, cert. den. 506 U.S. 964, 113 S.Ct. 436, 121 L.Ed.2d 356; see also People v. Cervantes, supra, 26 Cal.......
  • People v. Metters, No. A074986
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • 10 d2 Março d2 1998
    ...decision to dismiss a juror regardless Page 317 of whether the juror was holding out for acquittal. (See, e.g., People v. Roberts (1992) 2 Cal.4th 271, 324-325, 6 Cal.Rptr.2d 276, 826 P.2d 274 [employing deferential standard of review where defendant submits posttrial proof of dismissed jur......
  • Dominguez v. Trimble, 1:11-CV-01491 GSA HC
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
    • 21 d1 Maio d1 2012
    ...is generally inadmissible to prove a person's conduct on a specific occasion. (Evid.Code, § 1101, subd. (a).)" (People v. Roberts (1992) 2 Cal.4th 271, 300.) However, subdivision (a) of section 1103 provides an exception to the exception: "In a criminal action, evidence of the character or ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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