People v. Sapp, S023628.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Citation2 Cal.Rptr.3d 554,73 P.3d 433,31 Cal.4th 240
Decision Date31 July 2003
Docket NumberNo. S023628.,S023628.
PartiesThe PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. John SAPP, Defendant and Appellant.

2 Cal.Rptr.3d 554
73 P.3d 433
31 Cal.4th 240

The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
John SAPP, Defendant and Appellant

No. S023628.

Supreme Court of California.

July 31, 2003.

As Modified on Denial of Rehearing October 15, 2003.

Certiorari Denied April 26, 2004.

2 Cal.Rptr.3d 564
Bruce Eric Cohen, under appointment by the Supreme Court, Berkeley, for Defendant and Appellant

2 Cal.Rptr.3d 565
Bill Lockyer, Attorney General, David P. Druliner, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Ronald A. Bass, Assistant Attorney General, Dane R. Gillette, Stan M. Helfman and Christopher W. Grove, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent

Certiorari Denied April 26, 2004. See 124 S.Ct. 2067.


A jury convicted defendant John Sapp of the first degree murders of Robert Weber, Elizabeth Duarte, and John Abono. (Pen. Code, § 187; further undesignated statutory references are to the Penal Code.) For each murder, the jury found that defendant personally used a firearm. (§ 12022.5.) With respect to the murders of Weber and Duarte, the jury further found to be true special circumstance allegations of multiple murder and murder for financial gain. (§ 190.2, subd. (a)(1), (3).) In addition, the jury found defendant to be a convicted felon in possession of a concealable firearm (§ 12021), and it found true an allegation that defendant had served a prior prison term (§ 667.5, subd. (b)).

At the penalty phase, the jury returned verdicts of death for the Weber and Duarte murders, and the trial court pronounced death sentences for those crimes. For being a convicted felon in possession of a concealable firearm, the court sentenced defendant to two years plus a one-year sentence enhancement.

This appeal is automatic. (§ 1239.) We affirm the judgment in full.

I. Guilt Phase

A. Prosecution's Case

On April 25, 1986, in Grass Valley, Nevada County, California, defendant was arrested on an outstanding warrant for being a felon in possession of a concealable firearm. The next day, defendant confessed to three unsolved murders in California: the 1985 murder of Robert Weber in Colusa County, the 1981 murder of Elizabeth Duarte, and the 1975 murder of John Abono, both in Contra Costa County.

1. Murder of Robert Weber

In August 1985, defendant's friend Robert Weber lived in Concord. He was a "minor scale" cocaine dealer who was in debt to other drug dealers, including defendant. On August 13, Weber told his girlfriend, Linda Brown, that he and defendant were leaving for a few days to buy drugs. Weber took with him $17,000, a sawed-off shotgun, and a 9-mm. semiautomatic handgun. Around 7 o'clock that evening, Weber telephoned Brown and told her he was in the town of Clearlake with defendant but that the people they were planning to meet had not shown up.

On August 17, 1985, defendant and an armed companion went to Weber's condominium. While there, defendant answered a telephone call from Brown, who asked about Weber. Defendant told her he had waited for Weber in a motel for three days but that Weber never showed up. (Actually, defendant and Weber had stayed at the El Grande motel in Clearlake the nights of August 13 and 14.)

On August 18, two deer hunters found a man's body, later identified as Weber's, on a hillside on Walker Ridge in Colusa County, about 18 miles from Clearlake. Sheriffs deputies summoned to the scene found bloodstains and four expended 9-millimeter casings a short distance from Weber's body. Weber had died of multiple gunshot wounds to the head, back, chest, throat and both arms. He had been dead at least 24 hours when the hunters discovered his body.

While in custody some eight months later in Nevada County, after his arrest on

2 Cal.Rptr.3d 566
the warrant for being a felon in possession of a concealable firearm, defendant discussed the Weber killing with Deputy Steven McCulloch of the Colusa County Sheriffs Department. Defendant led McCulloch to the site at Walker Ridge where he had killed Weber. Defendant mentioned that Weber was walking in front of him on top of a hill, and when Weber turned around, defendant shot him several times with a 9-millimeter pistol. Defendant then dragged Weber's body some distance and rolled it over the side of the hill, noting that shrubbery stopped it from rolling farther down the hill

The area was the same location where, earlier in August 1985, hunters had discovered the body, and sheriffs deputies had found bloodstains and expended 9-millimeter casings.

Defendant denied that Weber had any money on him when killed. According to defendant, "It was murder for hire." Defendant said that some people, whom he refused to name, had paid him $10,000 in advance to kill Weber, and defendant then devised a bogus drug deal to lure Weber to the remote area outside Clearlake.

In December 1986, while awaiting trial in this case, defendant wrote to Weber's brother Michael: "Thought I'd write you one and only letter to let you know something that's been eating away at me since your brother's death. It's obvious who pulled the trigger. I'm curious if you ever think about who put the `thing' in motion or who put up the `money' to have it done. Those people are still out there just like you are. Your brother died being a good friend of mine. He owed me $32,000 but that's not the reason he died. You're probably relieved about my situation but you should still keep in mind the other `responsibles' involved besides myself. I was used as a `tool' and nothing else.... I'm certainly not innocent of many things that I've been accused of but concerning your brother I was only a `tool' used by the `other people.' After I'm executed or if I am executed those `other people' will still be out there. Sometimes I wish they would be executed right along side of me. They deserve it also in my opinion."

2. Murder of Elizabeth Duarte

In 1976, defendant worked at the Chevron Research in Richmond, Contra Costa County, where he met coworker Elizabeth Duarte. The two dated for several years, but in July 1980, Duarte obtained a restraining order against defendant. Around the same time, she began dating another coworker, James Luddon.

Late in the evening of January 24, 1981, Duarte's father came to her house in Richmond and picked up her five-year-old son. Duarte's father brought the child back the next morning, but Duarte was not there. Later that day, the father notified the Richmond police that his daughter was missing.

On January 26, Richmond police investigator Patricia McKittrick talked with defendant about Duarte's disappearance. When defendant asked if he was suspected of murder, McKittrick told him "no." Defendant volunteered that Duarte made him "so mad" he wanted "to kill her." According to defendant, on January 24 (when Duarte disappeared), he had gone fishing, and he did not return until the next day. At the end of the interview, defendant said: "If I am not a suspect, I ought to be; I had a dream the other night that [Duarte] got shot in the head."

Police obtained a warrant and searched defendant's van on February 1, 1981. Caked dirt was on its clutch, gas and brake pedals, and dried human blood consistent with Duarte's (type A) was on the floor.

2 Cal.Rptr.3d 567
After his arrest in Nevada County in April 1986, defendant discussed Duarte's murder with Richmond Detective Michael Tye. Defendant said that he and Duarte had a "love-hate" relationship. He decided "to get rid of her because the love-hate was not balancing out anymore," and only hate was left. Although defendant decided to kill Duarte for personal reasons (she had arranged for a hit man to shoot 20 rounds from a high-powered rifle at his house), he did not do so for some two months after making that decision. In the meantime, someone offered him $20,000 to kill Duarte because she was a snitch.

For $800, defendant had James Luddon, whom Duarte dated after breaking up with defendant, lure her to Luddon's house.

On the evening of January 24, 1981, when Duarte arrived at Luddon's house, defendant was waiting in a bathroom. Defendant stepped into the hall and hit Duarte in the head so hard it split her scalp wide open, exposing skull bone. Defendant took Duarte in his van to his house, where he wrapped a bandage around her head and gave her a blanket. The two then drove to the Lime Ridge area of Mount Diablo, where defendant had earlier dug a grave. They talked all night and defendant at one point handed Duarte his .38-caliber revolver, telling her to shoot him. Just as the sun was coming up, defendant shot Duarte once in the stomach. She told him to shoot her again, and he "emptied the gun into her." Defendant added that he had buried Duarte wrapped in the blanket.

On April 27, 1986, defendant led Detective Tye to the area of Duarte's killing. There, police recovered human remains wrapped in a blanket and with a bandage wrapped around the skull. Several .38-caliber bullets were found nearby. Dental records established that the remains were those of Elizabeth Duarte. She had been shot in the chest at least four times.

3. Murder of John Abono

On December 22, 1975, 22-year-old John Abono was living in Concord, Contra Costa County. In the late afternoon, Abono and his friend Tim Bowler went to buy some marijuana from defendant, a long-time friend of Abono's. Bowler had given Abono $200 to $300 to buy two pounds of marijuana. Abono drove by defendant's house, and pointed it out to Bowler, who did not know defendant. Bowler noticed a Volkswagen parked in front. Abono, who was driving, parked his sports car nearby. Bowler got out of the car and walked home, leaving Abono to buy the drugs.

That evening, after waiting in vain for Abono and the marijuana, Bowler drove by defendant's house several times. When Bowler drove by between 7:00 and 8:00 p.m. and again around 11:00 p.m., he noticed that the Volkswagen was gone but that Abono's car was still parked on the street.

Shortly after Abono's disappearance,...

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