People v. Rogers

Decision Date06 July 2009
Docket NumberNo. S064337.,S064337.
Citation46 Cal. 4th 1136,209 P.3d 977,95 Cal.Rptr.3d 652
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
PartiesThe PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Ramon Jay ROGERS, Defendant and Appellant.

Michael J. Hersek, State Public Defender, under appointment by the Supreme Court, and Kent Barkhurst, Deputy State Public Defender, for Defendant and Appellant.

Bill Lockyer and Edmund G. Brown, Jr., Attorneys General, Robert R. Anderson, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Gary W. Schons, Assistant Attorney General, Holly D. Wilkens, Maxine P. Cutler and Adrianne S. Denault, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

BAXTER, J.

A jury convicted defendant Ramon Jay Rogers of the first degree murders of Beatrice Toronczak and Rose Albano and the second degree murder of Ron Stadt. (Pen. Code, § 187, subd. (a).)1 The jury also found true the special circumstance that defendant had been convicted of multiple murders. (§ 190.2, subd. (a)(3).) At the penalty phase of trial, the jury returned a verdict of death. Appeal to this court is automatic. (§ 1239, subd. (b).)

We affirm the judgment of death as modified to reflect that defendant's sentence on the second degree murder count is 15 years to life in prison. (See post, part II.C.1.)

I. FACTS
A. The Guilt Phase

Defendant was the resident manager of an apartment complex at 7007 Saranac in San Diego. In 1996, he was arrested and charged with murdering Ron Stadt, Rose Albano, and Beatrice Toronczak. Stadt was once defendant's roommate and best friend. He vanished in June 1993, and his body was never found. Albano had been living with defendant and was pregnant with his child at the time of her disappearance in December 1993. On December 29, 1993, her left arm, left leg, and jawbone were found in a trash bag approximately a mile and a half from defendant's sister's home. Toronczak had a five-year-old son with defendant and had recently moved into his apartment when she disappeared in February 1996. The next month, her severed fingers and parts of her jawbone were discovered in a storage area beneath defendant's apartment.

The three victims had been acquainted with each other, and many of the witnesses at trial knew all three.

1. The Prosecution Case
a. Ron Stadt

While in the Navy, Ron Stadt and defendant became best friends. After leaving the Navy, they both lived San Diego. In July 1992, Stadt separated from his wife Debra Stadt. He subsequently moved in with defendant, but did not stay there for long because he felt uncomfortable. In April or May 1993, Stadt discovered defendant was having an affair with Debra. Stadt intended to use evidence of the affair in his child custody dispute with Debra.

On June 24, 1993, Michael Proo was at work with Stadt when he overheard Stadt talking to defendant on the telephone in a heated conversation. After the call, Stadt told Proo he was going to defendant's apartment to retrieve some personal items, perhaps jewelry, left there by Debra. Stadt and defendant had not been getting along, and Stadt was worried that defendant's offer to return the jewelry was a setup. Stadt asked Proo and Proo's wife to go with him, but they declined. Around 6:15 or 6:30 p.m., Stadt left the shop to go to defendant's apartment. Although Stadt was scheduled to work the next day, he never returned, not even to collect his paycheck.

On June 24, 1993, at about 6:20 p.m., Debra drove to defendant's apartment. She saw Stadt driving his truck in the alley to the apartments on Saranac, with defendant following in his own truck. Defendant saw Debra and told her in a "fairly urgent" tone of voice to leave. Debra complied. Neither she nor any of Stadt's friends, family members, or other contacts ever saw Stadt again. After June 24, 1993, Stadt's credit card accounts showed no cardholder activity.

The next day, Debra asked defendant why he was with Stadt, since she understood the two were no longer talking to each other. Defendant said Stadt was at the apartments to pick up a ladder. On July 2, 1993, however, defendant told a detective from the Imperial Beach Sheriff's Department that Stadt came to his residence about 6:45 p.m. on June 24, 1993, to pick up jewelry Debra had left.

After Stadt disappeared, defendant stated to Debra and other friends at various times that Stadt was killed in a fight, that he drove off into the sunset, that he was missing and would not be bothering Debra anymore, that he left because he did not want to pay child support, and that he was mountain lion food. Debra once indicated to defendant that if he had done anything to Stadt, then Stadt's body could be identified by his extensive dental work. Defendant responded that was the only thing he had forgotten, and it was the only mistake he had made.

Debra testified that, after Stadt vanished, defendant was in possession of Stadt's key to Debra's car and a radar detector that had belonged to Stadt. Stacie Wickett and Gwytha Zelinsky testified that, after Stadt disappeared, defendant had called them using their unlisted telephone numbers. The women had not given these numbers to defendant but had shared them with Stadt, who presumably wrote them in his phone book.

b. Rose Albano

Defendant told Loretta Peer that Rose Albano was pregnant, and that Albano claimed he was the father. He told Ash Darwish that he wanted Albano to get an abortion and move out of his apartment, but she wanted to do neither. Defendant told Kimberly Skolte he did not want to marry Albano, and told Skolte and Darwish he did not want to be responsible for Albano's other two children.

Albano's parents last saw Albano on December 18, 1993. On December 23, 1993, defendant called the San Diego Police Department to report Albano missing. He said he last saw her on December 12, 1993, at around 1:00 p.m. He also said she was pregnant, she lived with him at 7007 Saranac, apartment 209, and she might be carrying about $6,400 she had withdrawn from her retirement account. On December 24, 1993, defendant again called the police to report Albano missing, but this time he gave a different address for her, and said he last saw her on December 21, 1993, at 7:00 a.m.

Defendant never expressed any concern over Albano's disappearance and did not tell his friends, unless they asked, that she was gone. He was evasive when Pamela LeFrere suggested they look for her. Regarding Albano's disappearance, defendant told friends and others at various times that she had gone to Los Angeles or to see her sister, that she and Stadt were shopping in Mexico, that she went shopping one night and did not return, and that she might have gone to the Philippines. Around Christmas of 1993, before Albano vanished, defendant had told Loretta Peer that Albano would be leaving his apartment in two weeks because she had lined up a secretarial job.

On December 29, 1993, Albano's partial remains were found in a trash bag in a rural, mountainous area about a mile or a mile and a half from defendant's sister's house. On that same day, defendant informed his sister that Albano's mother told him Albano's body parts had been found. The San Diego County Sheriff's Department, however, did not tell Albano's parents that her remains had been identified until January 27, 1994.

Other evidence showed that on December 17, 1993, Albano had withdrawn over $4,600 from her retirement account. After she went missing, defendant had a used engine and new tires installed on his truck, which would have cost approximately $4,000.

Kimberly Skolte testified that around the second week of March 1994, defendant told her that Albano had been found murdered and the police had interrogated him. Defendant gave Skolte $2,400 in cash, his airline ticket to Poland for the end of March (to visit Beatrice Toronczak and their son), his ATM card with his personal identification number (PIN), his mailbox keys, and his passport. The next day, he brought her Toronczak's passport. Defendant told Skolte to hold onto his things, because he was concerned he was a suspect and afraid the police would find the plane ticket and think he might have had a motive or be fleeing. On March 18, 1994, he gave her another $600 in cash. Skolte returned the items to defendant after two weeks because she did not want to be responsible for them.

c. Beatrice Toronczak

Defendant and Beatrice Toronczak had a young son named Nicholas. For a period of time, Nicholas lived with Toronczak in Poland, and defendant was determined to get him back. Defendant did not care for the way Toronczak was raising Nicholas. In late 1995, defendant traveled to Warsaw and returned with Nicholas on January 3, 1996. Toronczak arrived in San Diego on February 11, 1996, and moved into defendant's apartment. Defendant had to move his then live-in girlfriend, Rose McKinney, to another apartment in the complex because Toronczak did not want McKinney around Nicholas.

Toronczak was last seen on or shortly after her birthday on February 18, 1996. Defendant told friends and Toronczak's mother different things about her disappearance, e.g., that he did not know where Toronczak was, that Toronczak ran off with a Mexican man to the Mexican border, that she left and probably went to Germany, and that she maybe went to Las Vegas or to Poland. Defendant expressed no concern over her disappearance and did not try to find her. He refused a request by Toronczak's mother to file a missing person report and told her not to worry. Meanwhile, Nicholas was living with defendant.

On March 11, 1996, the police went to defendant's apartment to investigate a missing person report concerning Toronczak. They entered the three storage rooms underneath defendant's apartment and saw evidence of a crime scene. After securing a search warrant, the police seized a number of items from those rooms, including a tote bag containing Toronczak's driver's license, her luggage containing clothing and personal items, and a yellow bucket containing what proved to...

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