People v. Steele, No. S016730.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Writing for the CourtCHIN, J.
Citation47 P.3d 225,120 Cal.Rptr.2d 432,27 Cal.4th 1230
PartiesThe PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Raymond Edward STEELE, Defendant and Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. S016730.
Decision Date30 May 2002

120 Cal.Rptr.2d 432
27 Cal.4th 1230
47 P.3d 225

The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
Raymond Edward STEELE, Defendant and Appellant

No. S016730.

Supreme Court of California.

May 30, 2002.

Rehearing Denied July 17, 2002.1

Certiorari Denied January 13, 2003.


120 Cal.Rptr.2d 438
Gregory Marshall, Palo Cedro, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for Defendant and Appellant

Bill Lockyer, Attorney General, Robert R. Anderson, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Jo Graves, Assistant Attorney General, Ward A. Campbell, Anthony L. Dicce, J. Robert Jibson, John A. O'Sullivan and Eric L. Christoffersen, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

Certiorari Denied January 13, 2003. See 123 S.Ct. 874.

CHIN, J.

A jury convicted defendant of the first degree murder of Lee Ann Thurman (Pen. Code, § 187)2 with the use of a knife (§ 12022) and found true the special circumstance of a prior murder conviction (§ 190.2, subd. (a)(2)). Later, defendant admitted three prior serious felony convictions. (§ 667, subd. (a).) After a penalty

120 Cal.Rptr.2d 439
trial, the jury returned a verdict of death, and the court imposed that sentence. This appeal is automatic. (§ 1239, subd. (b).) We affirm the judgment

I. The Facts

A. Guilt Phase

1. Prosecution Evidence

During the evening of August 5, 1988, the body of Lee Ann Thurman, nude but partially covered by a blanket, was discovered on the floor of her apartment in Redding. She was 24 or 25 years old and developmentally disabled; she "had the skills of ... maybe a 10 year old." The body had bruises on the face and neck possibly caused by a fist and eight or nine stab wounds, all but one to the chest. The other stab wound, inflicted after death, was to the vagina. The autopsy revealed that the victim had also been manually strangled before she died. The cause of death was "multiple stab wounds to the chest with manual strangulation."

The morning after the body was found, August 6, 1988, defendant entered the Circus Circus casino in Reno, Nevada, and told a security officer, "I just killed a girl. I need a drink." He said he had killed her "[b]ecause she was a whore." He also said he had the knife and the victim's identification. Another security officer was called to the scene, and the two seized a knife and wallet from defendant. A short time later, defendant told a police officer, "I killed a lady. Talk to me please."

Defendant spoke with an officer of the Reno Police Department about the killing. His story changed a number of times, but basically he said he picked the victim up while she was hitchhiking in Redding, and he paid her $10 to orally copulate him. The two went to her home, where they had sexual intercourse. He drank a lot of peppermint schnapps. Then, he said, "I just snapped." He killed her with the knife he showed the security guard, which had been in his pocket. He said, "I just nutted up," and "I hate women." When asked why he killed her, he said he "heard helicopters." He said he had spent two and a half years in Vietnam, from November 1964 to April 1967, and suggested that he had been in combat and had been trained to kill. He claimed he had been honorably discharged from the military and had received a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts. After he killed her, he said, he wiped his fingerprints off the doorknob, the couch, and the shower. He denied ever having hurt a girl before. Later defendant gave a similar statement to the Redding police. He said he just "snapped." "I heard chopper blade, ... I just blew it." He said he had "been drinking a hundred proof of Peppermint Schnapps for two weeks."

The police recovered the truck that defendant said he had driven to the Reno area. It contained a purse that defendant said was the victim's. The wallet defendant gave the security guards contained Thurman's identification. The knife that defendant gave the guards had human blood on it that could have been the victim's but not defendant's.

The truck that defendant drove to Reno belonged to Richard Blakeslee, with whom defendant was living at the time of the killing. Blakeslee testified that defendant had taken the truck once before without permission. On the day of the killing, Blakeslee said, he and defendant had been drinking. One of Thurman's neighbors testified that around 7:30 to 8:00 p.m., the day of the killing, she saw a man she did not know drive the same truck with Thurman as a passenger to Thurman's residence. The two got out and entered the residence. The neighbor had not seen the truck before.

120 Cal.Rptr.2d 440
Richard Blakeslee's wife, Anna, received a telephone call shortly before 10:00 p.m., the night of the killing. A voice she did not recognize identified itself as "Lee Ann" and said, "Ray wanted me to call and tell you that he's okay and he'll be home shortly." Anna gave the telephone to Richard. Richard heard a woman say something, then heard defendant's voice say, "Put the phone down or I'll kill you."

The prosecution also presented evidence that in 1971, defendant stabbed to death a 15-year-old babysitter, Deborah Cerna, for which he was convicted of second degree murder.

2. Defense Evidence

Defendant presented evidence to suggest that Thurman's boyfriend, who discovered the body, might have been the killer. But the main thrust of the defense was that he was guilty of a crime less serious than first degree murder. As appellate counsel describes it, defendant presented "a mental defense, based on psychological dysfunction brought on by traumatic experiences in the Vietnam War, and on neurological and psychological deficits resulting from head injuries."

Defendant appeared intoxicated when he came to the Circus Circus casino the day after the killing. A blood sample taken after his arrest had a blood-alcohol level of 0.15 percent; when he arrived at the casino the level would have been around 0.23 percent. A witness estimated that if defendant had drunk the amount of peppermint schnapps that he claimed to have drunk the day of the killing, his blood-alcohol level at 8:00 p.m., the night of the killing, would have been around 0.28 percent.

A California Highway Patrol air traffic officer testified that the night of the killing he flew a helicopter in the area of Thurman's home, including one flight at 10:05 p.m. almost directly over her residence. Such flights were made on a daily basis.

Shad Meshad, the executive director of the Vietnam Veterans Aid Foundation in Los Angeles, testified about the trauma members of the military faced in Vietnam. Defendant was in the navy. His military records do not indicate that he experienced any combat, but they show that he had two weeks of training at a "counter-insurgency school" for "SEALS" that teaches the students to kill with knives. Meshad believed defendant may have had a temporary duty assignment involving a particularly traumatic type of combat that was not reflected in the records. Eventually, defendant received a discharge from the military that was, according to the witness, "other than honorable" because of a "civil conviction."

Dr. Harry R. Kormos, a psychiatrist, testified as an expert on "post traumatic stress disorder" (PTSD), particularly "as it applies to Vietnam veterans." Persons suffering from the disorder can experience a "flashback," and thus relive their traumatic experiences. Events such as the sound of a helicopter can trigger a flash-back.

Robert Buley, director of the Shasta County Substance Abuse Clinic, testified that defendant suffered from "episodic alcoholism" and would go on drinking binges lasting from a few days to a few weeks. When Buley tried to discuss Vietnam with him, defendant would "shake" and refuse to talk about it. Dr. John Wicks, a psychologist, administered various tests to defendant and concluded he has a "brain impairment" and a "personality syndrome" consistent with brain damage which would cause "impulse control problems." Dr. Stephen Pittel, also a psychologist, testified about defendant's problems with substance abuse. Dr. Richard Sauer, a neurologist,

120 Cal.Rptr.2d 441
testified that defendant's brain is smaller than he would expect in someone his age, and it had an old trauma that looked like a hole

Dr. Arthur Kowell, another neurologist, analyzed the results of EEG (electroencephalogram) tests, which record brain electrical activity, and a "BEAM" test, i.e., brain electrical activity mapping. Defendant's EEG result was normal, but the BEAM test showed abnormalities in his brain. At the time of trial, BEAM testing was a fairly new technique and had been used primarily for treatment rather than evidentiary purposes. Regarding its validity, Dr. Kowell testified that control groups for the BEAM system were broken down into age groups varying in size from 15 to around 40 persons, and that the group for defendant's age consisted of 16 people.

Dr. Robert Bittle, a doctor specializing in psychiatry and neurology, testified about defendant's brain abnormalities, his learning difficulties as a child, head traumas he had suffered, including a skull fracture in 1980, and his substance abuse. He opined that defendant has an "organic brain dysfunction"; that he has "post-traumatic stress disorder, Vietnam-type"; that he has a "major affective disorder"; and that he suffers from a "mixed personality disorder" with "schizoid, antisocial, avoidant, aggressive and paranoid elements." Persons with these problems "routinely misinterpret stimuli, very poorly control[] anger, hostility and aggression and tend to over-respond and misinterpret events or stimuli coming from the environment or those in the environment."

On cross-examination, Dr. Bittle testified about the scientific acceptance of BEAM testing, which was a new technology. The testing and its results are based on data maintained by the person who owned the patent on the machine used in this case. That person "will not release [that data] until the patent runs out."...

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1105 practice notes
  • People v. Schmeck, No. S015008.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • August 25, 2005
    ...appreciated by every juror who must choose between a death sentence and a sentence of life without parole.'" (People v. Steele (2002) 27 Cal.4th 1230, 1264-1265, 120 Cal.Rptr.2d 432, 47 P.3d 225; Pride, supra, 3 Cal.4th at pp. 267-268, 10 Cal.Rptr.2d 636, 833 P.2d 643 ["Defendant incorrectl......
  • Ramirez v. Pfeiffer, No. 2:17-cv-00619 TLN KJN
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
    • August 12, 2019
    ...the facts and circumstances were sufficient to arouse the passions of the ordinarily reasonable [person]."' (People v. Steele [(2002)] 27 Cal.4th 1230, 1252-1253.)" (People v. Cole (2004) 33 Cal.4th 1158, 1215-1216.)Page 13 Here, the trial court's comments regarding defendant being "provoke......
  • People v. Sattiewhite, No. S039894.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • June 30, 2014
    ...does not provide substantial evidence to support a finding of heat-of-passion voluntary manslaughter. (See People v. Steele (2002) 27 Cal.4th 1230, 1253, 120 Cal.Rptr.2d 432, 47 P.3d 225 [the “objective, reasonable person requirement” of heat-of-passion voluntary manslaughter “requires prov......
  • 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
    • May 21, 2012
    ...heat of passion requirement for manslaughter has both an objective and a subjective component. [Citation.]" (People v. Steele (2002) 27 Cal.4th 1230, 1252.) Subjectively, the defendant must actually kill under the heat of passion. (Ibid.) Objectively, "'[f]irst, the provocation which incite......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1105 cases
  • People v. Schmeck, No. S015008.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • August 25, 2005
    ...appreciated by every juror who must choose between a death sentence and a sentence of life without parole.'" (People v. Steele (2002) 27 Cal.4th 1230, 1264-1265, 120 Cal.Rptr.2d 432, 47 P.3d 225; Pride, supra, 3 Cal.4th at pp. 267-268, 10 Cal.Rptr.2d 636, 833 P.2d 643 ["Defendant incorrectl......
  • Ramirez v. Pfeiffer, No. 2:17-cv-00619 TLN KJN
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
    • August 12, 2019
    ...the facts and circumstances were sufficient to arouse the passions of the ordinarily reasonable [person]."' (People v. Steele [(2002)] 27 Cal.4th 1230, 1252-1253.)" (People v. Cole (2004) 33 Cal.4th 1158, 1215-1216.)Page 13 Here, the trial court's comments regarding defendant being "provoke......
  • People v. Sattiewhite, No. S039894.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • June 30, 2014
    ...does not provide substantial evidence to support a finding of heat-of-passion voluntary manslaughter. (See People v. Steele (2002) 27 Cal.4th 1230, 1253, 120 Cal.Rptr.2d 432, 47 P.3d 225 [the “objective, reasonable person requirement” of heat-of-passion voluntary manslaughter “requires prov......
  • 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
    • May 21, 2012
    ...heat of passion requirement for manslaughter has both an objective and a subjective component. [Citation.]" (People v. Steele (2002) 27 Cal.4th 1230, 1252.) Subjectively, the defendant must actually kill under the heat of passion. (Ibid.) Objectively, "'[f]irst, the provocation which incite......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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