People v. Ruiz

Decision Date29 February 1988
Docket NumberCr. 21370
Citation749 P.2d 854,244 Cal.Rptr. 200,44 Cal.3d 589
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties, 749 P.2d 854 The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Alejandro Gilbert RUIZ, Defendant and Appellant.

James Larson, Larson and Weinberg, San Francisco, for defendant and appellant.

Gary Hahn, Deputy Atty. Gen., Office of the Attorney General, Los Angeles, for plaintiff and respondent.

LUCAS, Chief Justice.

Defendant Alejandro Gilbert Ruiz appeals from a judgment imposing the death penalty following his conviction of two counts of first degree murder (Pen.Code, §§ 187, 189; all further statutory references are to this code unless otherwise indicated), and one count of second degree murder (ibid.), accompanied by multiple-murder special-circumstance (former § 190.2, subd. (c)(5)) and firearm-use (§ 12022.5) findings. As will appear, we conclude that the judgment should be affirmed in its entirety.

I. THE FACTS

Defendant was charged with killing two of his wives, Tanya and Pauline, and the son of Pauline (defendant's stepson Tony). The jury found defendant guilty of murder in the first degree as to both Pauline and Tony, and guilty of murder in the second degree as to Tanya. Because the evidence of defendant's guilt of these offenses was largely circumstantial, we review the underlying facts in some detail.

A. Tanya Ruiz

Defendant married Tanya Ruiz in 1972; she disappeared in August 1975. Although suspicion briefly focused on defendant, he was not formally charged with her death until the discovery in 1979 of the bodies of his subsequent wife Pauline and her son Tony under circumstances implicating defendant, as discussed hereafter.

Tanya, a victim of cerebral palsy and epilepsy resulting from an automobile accident, married defendant in 1972. In 1975, defendant and Tanya moved to a ranch in Southern California where defendant obtained employment. Although Tanya's doctor, Russell Shields, testified that Tanya had reported in July 1975 that she was happily married, Tanya had told her mother, Mrs. Ferreira, on several occasions during the previous year that she and defendant were not getting along, that Tanya was "scared to death" of defendant and his "terrible temper," and that she also disliked and feared defendant's mother. In addition, Tanya had remarked to her stepfather, Tony Ferreira, in April 1975, that she disliked and feared defendant's mother. Tanya was last seen at the ranch on August 6, 1975, where Tanya's grandmother, Marie Petersen had driven her after making a date for church on the following Sunday. Tanya had been visiting her grandmother the preceding three or four days.

Tanya did not meet Mrs. Petersen on Sunday as planned. A few days later, defendant called Mrs. Petersen and asked to talk to Tanya. When told that she had been left at the ranch, defendant replied: "Well, she isn't here.... I guess she's visiting somebody." Defendant rejected Mrs. Petersen's suggestion to call the police, saying that he did not want to start any trouble. Defendant remained silent when Mrs. Petersen opined that something must have happened to Tanya. Finally, Mrs. Petersen suggested that they drive to various places where Tanya might be staying. Defendant rejected that suggestion too. Defendant did propose that they talk to "Jim" working at a bakery in Ojai, but when Mrs. Petersen went there she was told that no one named Jim worked at the bakery. Defendant suggested no other possible leads.

Thereafter, the ranch foreman, DeJarnette, and a neighbor, Stafford, each asked defendant where Tanya was, and he replied, without elaboration, that she had "left" defendant. Both men believed that defendant was acting nervously when discussing the matter. Tanya's pastor, Richard Smith, a Mormon Bishop, confirmed that Tanya had left no forwarding address. According to Bishop Smith, if Tanya had contacted another Mormon ward anywhere in the world, and if her records were sent to her new residence, as is customary, the files would so indicate. In addition, Tanya's physician, Doctor Shields, observed that she wore a medi-alert bracelet informing that she was an epileptic regularly receiving the drug Dilantin; Shields believed that if Tanya moved anywhere, her new physician or medical facility would have contacted him and asked for her records. No such contact or request was made.

Tanya had been a Medi-Cal and Social Security recipient. Payment of these benefits continued until the time of Tanya's disappearance, when uncashed checks were returned to the government. No request was ever received from Tanya to resume these payments. Moreover, although Tanya previously had been in monthly telephonic contact with her mother, Mrs. Ferreira, those contacts abruptly ceased once Tanya disappeared. Several months after Tanya's disappearance, her mother went to the house where defendant's parents lived and went through Tanya's belongings. She found various items, including Tanya's purse (which she usually kept with her), watch, books, clothing, dishes, and a wallet containing her identification and Social Security card.

After trying for a month to locate Tanya, Mrs. Petersen reported her disappearance to the sheriff, whose deputy eventually interviewed defendant. According to the deputy, defendant seemed unconcerned about his wife's whereabouts, and told the deputy that Tanya had taken with her $150 to $200 and some clothes when she left.

The jury found defendant guilty of murder in the second degree as to Tanya.

B. Pauline Ruiz and Tony Mitchell

Tanya was evidently defendant's third wife; he had divorced two previous wives. After Tanya's disappearance, defendant (who apparently failed to formally divorce Tanya) married and divorced his fourth wife; the divorce was final in August 1978. In June 1978, defendant moved into a ranch house at the Camulos Ranch near Piru, California, bringing with him his fifth wife, Pauline, and her teenage son Tony Mitchell. Sometime in October 1978, Pauline and Tony disappeared or departed. Tony stopped attending school; Pauline ceased visiting or writing friends and relatives.

In August 1978, a relative, Mathilde Cohen, talked with Tony. He told her that he was afraid of defendant, who kept guns and rifles at the house. Pauline's cousin, Rodney Cohen, testified regarding a similar conversation with Tony, who complained that he had been hit and "pushed around" by defendant; Tony also stated that he was frightened of defendant.

In October 1978, shortly before her disappearance, Pauline told Mrs. Cohen that she was having trouble with her marriage, was afraid of her mother-in-law, and was planning to move with Tony to another house in two weeks. On this same occasion Pauline told Rodney Cohen "If you don't see me or hear from me in two weeks, I won't--I will be dead." Other witnesses confirmed that Pauline had announced her intention to move to a different location.

On another occasion in October 1978 Pauline was overheard by Christine Dexter stating that she feared for the lives of herself and her son, and that "If Tony and I, either one of us show up missing, raise hell with the police." Pauline also stated at this time that she feared both her husband and her mother-in-law. Around the same time, Pauline told witness Roxine Hann that she feared for her life, and that her mother-in-law hated her and would like to see her dead.

Pauline's and Tony's disappearance was confirmed by witnesses who testified regarding the abrupt cessation of contacts with them, including Tony's failure to attend school, and Pauline's failure to communicate with friends, relatives, or a law firm which was prosecuting a personal injury action on her behalf. Pauline left behind her car, furniture, a dog and some paintings she highly valued.

On December 14, 1978, Roxine Hann reported to police the disappearance of Pauline and Tony. The officers interviewed defendant, who stated that they had left home in mid-October driving a white vehicle, and possibly accompanied by Donna Clubb. (Pauline's car was in fact blue, and Mrs. Clubb did not own a white car.) According to defendant, Pauline had indicated that she did not like living on the ranch; in the past they had argued on this subject. Defendant further explained that after leaving in the white car, Pauline returned a few days later to pick up her and Tony's clothing, a bed and some bedding.

The investigating officers contacted approximately 20 persons, and made numerous telephone calls, in an unsuccessful attempt to locate Pauline and Tony. During his investigation, Detective Pulido noted and read the 1975 missing persons report involving Tanya Ruiz. Eventually, Pulido examined an area a few feet outside the house where defendant and Pauline had lived; the ground appeared to have been dug up and cultivated. Returning with another officer, Pulido dug down about 18 to 24 inches and found two bodies, male and female.

Defendant was immediately arrested and a search of the Camulos Ranch house was conducted. Some incriminating evidence was uncovered, including a rifle which could have fired the bullet fragments found in the male victim's skull, and a rope similar in fiber content and other characteristics to the one binding the male victim's body.

An autopsy indicated that the male victim was 13 to 15 years old. Although the face was unrecognizable, Dr. Kornblum, a prosecution expert, testified that, based on dental records, he could state with reasonable medical certainty that the victim was Tony Mitchell. Kornblum observed two gunshot wounds in Tony's head. Kornblum's estimated date of death was consistent with the approximate time Tony disappeared. Similar expert testimony identified the female victim as Pauline. She had been shot once in the head, and was wearing a nightgown and knitted booties identified as Pauline's. Tony's body was wrapped in a bedsheet and blanket. Both victims probably had been shot at...

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