People v. Thomas, No. S048337.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Writing for the CourtCANTIL–SAKAUYE
Citation12 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 2188,269 P.3d 1109,137 Cal.Rptr.3d 533,53 Cal.4th 771,2012 Daily Journal D.A.R. 2371
PartiesThe PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Regis Deon THOMAS, Defendant and Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. S048337.
Decision Date23 February 2012

12 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 2188
137 Cal.Rptr.3d 533
2012 Daily Journal D.A.R. 2371
269 P.3d 1109
53 Cal.4th 771

The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
Regis Deon THOMAS, Defendant and Appellant.

No. S048337.

Supreme Court of California

Feb. 23, 2012.

137 Cal.Rptr.3d 547] Michael J. Hersek, State Public Defender, under appointment by the Supreme Court, and Mary K. McComb, Deputy State Public Defender, for Defendant and Appellant.

Bill Lockyer and Kamala D. Harris, Attorneys General, Robert R. Anderson, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Pamela C. Hamanaka, Assistant Attorney General, John R. Gorey, Peggy Bradford Tarwater and Douglas Wilson, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.


[53 Cal.4th 780]

[269 P.3d 1121

Defendant was convicted of the second degree murder of Carlos Adkins and the first degree murders of Compton Police Officer Kevin Burrell and Reserve Officer James MacDonald. The jury found true special circumstance allegations that the officers were killed while engaged in the performance of their duties and that defendant was convicted of more than one murder. (pen.code, § 190.2, subds. (a)(3) [137 Cal.Rptr.3d 548] and (a)(7).) 1 the jury found him guilty of one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm. (§ 12021, subd. (a).) Allegations as to all three murder counts that defendant personally used a firearm within the meaning of section 12022.5 also were found true. Defendant also pleaded guilty to one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm (§ 12021, subd. (a)) and to one count of being in possession of a concealed firearm in a vehicle (§ 12025, subd. (a)(1)). The jury set the penalty for the murders of the police officers at death, and the trial court denied defendant's motion for a new trial and the automatic motion to modify the death verdict. The trial court imposed a death sentence on all three murder counts and a total of six years four months for the firearms enhancements on the three murder charges. The trial court also imposed a term of three years on one of the weapons counts, and stayed sentence on the other two weapons counts.

This appeal is automatic. (Cal. Const., art. VI, § 11(a); § 1239, subd. (b).) For the reasons explained post, we modify the judgment to correct the sentence imposed on count 1 for second degree murder, and in all other respects we affirm defendant's convictions and death sentence.

A. Guilt Phase
1. Murder of Carlos Adkins

In January 1992, Carlos Adkins was shot to death in the apartment of Janice Chappell, located in the Nickerson Gardens housing project in Los Angeles. Andre and Janice Chappell and their friend Bertrand Dickson witnessed the shooting. Dickson, who was visiting Andre Chappell, went out to purchase some cigarettes. When returning, he thought he heard someone call out his nickname. Believing it to be his friend Romeo, he responded by calling out, “Romeo, down here.” Defendant, who was driving by, called out to him, “You don't know me, don't try to sell me something.” Dickson explained that he had not been talking to defendant. As he was walking [53 Cal.4th 781] toward the Chappell's apartment, Dickson saw defendant pointing a gun at him from the window of the car.

Dickson went inside the apartment, where Adkins was playing chess with Andre Chappell. He heard a banging at the door. Chappell opened the door and defendant entered, making angry remarks. Defendant had a gun at his side. Dickson explained that he was calling to his friend Romeo and had not been trying to sell anything to defendant. Carlos Adkins then stood up. Defendant asked him what he was going to do, stating “I know you's a Tillman,” and hit Adkins with the gun. Adkins stated that he

[269 P.3d 1122]

was not named Tillman and defendant told him to “shut up.” Janice Chappell, who had been asleep upstairs, was awakened by the sounds of arguing and walked downstairs. She observed defendant, Adkins, Andre Chappell, and Dickson in the living room. Defendant appeared to be angry and Andre Chappell appeared to be trying to calm him down. Defendant started to leave the apartment and as he was walking to the door he apologized to Janice Chappell for the disturbance and stated that the men in the apartment “don't know who I am.” Dickson thought he heard defendant identify himself as “Renzi.” Adkins then stated to defendant, “You don't know who I am either.” Defendant came back inside, placed the gun between Adkins's eyes and threatened to “blow [his] brains out.” Adkins grabbed the gun and a struggle ensued, during which two shots were fired.

[137 Cal.Rptr.3d 549] Dickson ran out of the apartment and called 911. When he went to meet the ambulance, he was stopped by defendant and another man. They told him not to say anything about the incident and pistol-whipped him. The two men forced Dickson into the trunk of their car at gun point, but Dickson got out and ran away. Adkins subsequently died of a gunshot wound to the right lower chest.

The next day Dickson informed his parole officer that he had witnessed a shooting, and was advised to contact the police. When he initially met with police detectives, he described the shooting and told the officers that the shooter's name was “Renzi.” Subsequently, Dickson met with a local man named Renzi, who Dickson knew was not the killer. He informed the police that he had learned that the correct name was “Reggie.” Dickson identified defendant's picture in a photographic display and later selected him during a live lineup. Janice Chappell also picked defendant's picture from a photographic display, indicating that he looked like the man who shot Carlos Adkins.

[53 Cal.4th 782] Several months later, defendant was identified during a traffic stop and arrested on a warrant for the shooting of Carlos Adkins. In September of 1992, Dickson, who was then incarcerated, was transported to the Compton courthouse for defendant's preliminary hearing. He was placed in a holding cell with defendant, who asked him why he was going to testify. Defendant stated that he had not meant to “do it” and that it had been his girlfriend's birthday and he had argued with her and was upset. He “just went off.” Defendant told Dickson that Dickson “didn't want to end up like Andre [Chappell].” Dickson was aware that Andre had died. He understood defendant to be saying that if he testified, he could not go back to the projects. Defendant offered to give Dickson $5,000 if he “turned the cheek.” Dickson told the prosecutor that he had identified the wrong man, and defendant was released.

Defendant was subsequently recharged with the murder of Adkins. At trial, Dickson identified defendant as the person who shot Adkins. Dickson had been promised that if he testified he would serve his sentence outside Los Angeles County if he were convicted on a pending burglary charge. Janice Chappell also testified that defendant looked like the person who shot Adkins, stating that she was 98 percent certain he was the man. Andre Chappell did not testify because he had been shot and killed in the Nickerson Gardens housing project in March 1992.

The jury found defendant guilty of the second degree murder of Carlos Adkins.

2. Murders of Officers Burrell and MacDonald

In March of 1992, defendant purchased a red 1992 Chevrolet 454 pickup truck. Late at night on February 22, 1993, Compton Police Officer Kevin Burrell and Reserve Officer James MacDonald made a traffic stop of a red pickup truck on Rosecrans Avenue in Compton. Margaretta Gully was driving past the scene, accompanied by her 12–year–old son, De'Moryea Polidore, in the front seat, and her 11–year–old daughter and her older son's girlfriend, Alicia Jordon, in the backseat. Through the windshield of her car, Gully observed two officers, one Black and one White, struggling with a suspect. A red pickup truck was parked nearby with the door on the driver's side open. Just after Gully passed the scene, she heard shots fired. Through her rearview mirror, she saw the

[269 P.3d 1123]

suspect straddling one of the officers, who was lying on the ground. Her son Polidore heard shots and looked through the back window, observing the [137 Cal.Rptr.3d 550] suspect shoot the White officer in the head. Polidore then observed the suspect get into the truck and drive away. As the truck passed their car, passenger Jordon saw the driver's face through the side [53 Cal.4th 783] window of the car. At trial, Gully, Polidore, and Jordon testified that defendant had all of the same features and the same body type as the suspect they observed.

Both officers were found lying facedown near the police vehicle. Both officers were in uniform with their guns holstered. There were nine spent nine-millimeter shell casings in front of the police vehicle. Officer Burrell died of multiple gunshot wounds—one to the arm, one in the face, one in the left foot, and one in the head. Officer MacDonald was also shot four times, in the left armpit, the middle back, the upper back, and behind the right ear, and died of a wound to the chest.

Defendant's wife, Deshaunna Cody Thomas, testified that on the evening of the day the officers were killed, defendant left her apartment in his red pickup truck, stating that he was going to his mother's house in Nickerson Gardens. When she woke up the next morning, defendant was in bed with her and he had a gun in his hand.

Defendant's friend, Keyon Pie, testified that sometime in February of 1993, defendant arrived at her house and asked her to hold a gun for him. He gave her a gun wrapped in a bag and she placed it under her mattress. The next day, a man she had never seen before came and picked up the gun.

That man, Calvin Cooksey, testified that on February 24 or 25, he was at the apartment of his cousin, Philip Cathcart, in Gardena. Defendant, who was a very close friend of Cooksey's cousin, arrived at the apartment. Cooksey was watching a news broadcast relating to the shootings of the...

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