People v. Towler, Cr. 22009

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Writing for the CourtKAUS; BIRD
Citation31 Cal.3d 105,641 P.2d 1253,181 Cal.Rptr. 391
Parties, 641 P.2d 1253 The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Christopher Scott TOWLER, Defendant and Appellant.
Decision Date25 March 1982
Docket NumberCr. 22009

Page 391

181 Cal.Rptr. 391
31 Cal.3d 105, 641 P.2d 1253
The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
Christopher Scott TOWLER, Defendant and Appellant.
Cr. 22009.
Supreme Court of California.
March 25, 1982.
Rehearing Denied May 12, 1982.

Page 392

[641 P.2d 1254] [31 Cal.3d 109] Quin Denvir, State Public Defender, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, and Julia Cline Newcomb, Deputy State Public Defender, for defendant and appellant.

George Deukmejian, Atty. Gen., Robert H. Philibosian, Chief Asst. Atty. Gen., Arnold O. Overoye, Asst. Atty. Gen., Vincent J. Scally, Robert D. Marshall and Garrett Beaumont, Deputy Attys. Gen., for plaintiff and respondent.

KAUS, Justice.

Defendant Christopher Towler appeals from a conviction of second degree murder, contending principally that the evidence introduced at trial was insufficient either to establish the corpus delicti of the crime or to support his conviction. We conclude that the evidence is sufficient in both respects and affirm.

I

The record, viewed in the light most favorable to the judgment below (see People v. Johnson (1980) 26 Cal.3d 557, 578, 162 Cal.Rptr. 431, 606 P.2d 738), reveals the following facts.

In the summer of 1977, Ron Stone, the victim, began working as a drug informant. Shortly thereafter, Stone introduced two undercover narcotics agents to Towler for the purpose of setting up a sale by Towler to the agents. In October 1977, Towler sold cocaine to the officers. [31 Cal.3d 110] A few weeks later he was arrested and later convicted of selling cocaine.

Both before and after his arrest and conviction, Towler told a number of people that he hated "snitches" and thought they should be killed. In a telephone conversation that took place between the sale and the arrest and which was recorded without his knowledge, Towler told Robert Burns, one of the agents, that "Your friend [Stone] is pretty bad people, man ... he's just [an] out and out snitch .... He's working for the cops, and he's bragging that ... supposedly he set me up ... with two guys from Sacramento." After the agent said, "I gotta watch myself then, if he [Stone] ever comes around to me, man," Towler replied, "I don't know, man, I don't think he's gonna be living up here very much longer." Later in the conversation Towler said: "[Stone's] liable to get his ass stomped pretty good because he's been talking a lot of shit about a lot of people ... and I'm sorry to hear that he's a friend of yours, man, but I don't fuck around."

A short time after that conversation, Towler was arrested and remained in jail until he had pleaded guilty to the drug sale charges. He was released on bail on December 31, 1977, pending sentencing which was originally set for January 17, 1978. Towler did not appear in court on January 17, but did appear the following week on January 24. Two days earlier Stone had disappeared. Between December 31, 1977, and Stone's disappearance on January 22, Towler told a number of people on several occasions that he was going to jail because of Stone and that he intended to get even with him. Gayle Burkhart testified that during this period of time Towler "always said that Ron was going to get it, or get even with Ron." When asked if Towler said how Ron was going to "get it," she stated: "Well, you know, that he should be killed. He should be, you know, done with, you know, because nobody deserves to be busted and all that stuff; and, he thought it was right for Ron, you know, to be killed." When asked if Towler had said who might do the killing, Burkhart testified: "What he said was that when he went to jail somebody was supposed, you know, do something to Ron, get Ron, you know, while he was in jail." Asked whether Towler had ever said anything about "disposing

Page 393

[641 P.2d 1255] of Ron, so he would never be found," Burkhart stated that Towler had said "he needed to be disposed of, so he wouldn't be found ... [H]e said ... that when Ron, you know, when Ron was going to get it, it would like--it would be an accident; and when the body was found, there would be no evidence, you know, or it would be so gone, you know, that nobody would know how it was done."

[31 Cal.3d 111] Susan MacDonald, a neighbor of Stone's, stated that late one evening when she met Towler sitting outside of Stone's motel room, Towler told her "that Ron had snitched him off, and that he was going to pay back Ron Stone for doing so."

Steven Konoff, a student at the University of Pacific who met Towler on a weekend visit to Sonora in January 1978, testified that Towler told him that he had been set up by an informant, that he had gotten into a fight with him "and that he was going to get this guy--got him good that night, and he was going to get him again." Towler said that "he had a plan to get this guy," and although he did not elaborate on the plan, "he did say he was going to get him before he went to prison."

In the late evening hours of Friday, January 20 or the early morning hours of Saturday, January 21, the day before Stone was last seen alive, Towler and several friends went to the motel room where Stone lived with his roommate Randy Schoeppner. Towler took Schoeppner outside the room and told him he was living with a snitch. The two went back into the room and after some drinking, Towler and Stone got into an argument and fight in which Towler hit Stone across the face with a bottle, knocking Stone's glasses off and cutting his nose. Towler picked up the glasses "and crunched them." Schoeppner testified that during the fight Towler called Stone a "snitch" and told him that he "was dead."

Towler and several friends then left Stone's motel and went to Joan Rouse's house. After a few hours they all decided to have an early breakfast at the Happy Kup restaurant, where Stone was employed as assistant manager. On their way to the restaurant, at Towler's suggestion, they stopped at the motel room to pick up Stone. Rouse testified that at the time Stone acted "scared." During the breakfast Towler joked about Stone's broken glasses, using the lens as a monocle. Stone seemed uncomfortable. At the Happy Kup Stone paid for everyone's meal by signing the tab; he did not, however, follow the established procedure of consulting the manager before doing so. Stone left the restaurant alone, before the rest of the party. 1

[31 Cal.3d 112] That night, Saturday, January 21, 1977, Stone worked his usual 8 p. m. to 4 a. m. graveyard shift at the Happy Kup. That same night, in anticipation of Towler's upcoming sentencing, there was a going-away party for him at a local tavern. Dan Roland was at the party. Towler talked to him about being angry at Stone and wanting "to kick his ass." Roland denied, however, that Towler asked for his help in getting even with Stone.

After the party, Roland went directly to the Happy Kup where he asked Stone if after work he wanted to take a ride to "party" with some drugs Roland had. Stone agreed and left the restaurant with Roland some time after 4 a. m. on Sunday, January 22. Roland testified that he and Stone just drove around for about an hour or an hour and a half, drinking beer and smoking marijuana, and that he dropped Stone at the Happy Kup's parking lot before 6 a. m. 2 Randy Schoeppner, Stone's roommate, testified, however, that Stone returned to the motel room briefly between

Page 394

[641 P.2d 1256] 4 and 5 a. m. that morning to pick up a jacket. As Stone was leaving, Schoeppner glanced out the window and saw Roland's car parked out front. Towler was sitting either in the right front passenger seat or in the rear seat of Roland's car, but Schoeppner was unable to see who was in the driver's seat. 3 After Stone closed the motel door, Schoeppner heard the car door slam and the vehicle pull away.

Stone was never seen again. A coworker testified that Stone was supposed to have picked him up at the Happy Kup that morning at 6 a. m., but never showed up. When Stone failed to report to work that night, another coworker informed the employer that Stone had told her that the police should be notified if he did not show up for work. The employer called the police.

Stone's body was found two months later in a remote area about eight miles from Sonora on the bank of the Stanislaus River. Stone had not had a working car or motorcycle, and thus probably had been taken to the river by someone else. The body was clad in the same clothes that Stone had been wearing when he left the Happy Kup with Roland in the morning of January 22. A knife was found in a pocket, but the wallet that Stone usually carried was missing.

[31 Cal.3d 113] Because of the deterioration of Stone's body over the two-month period, the examining doctors could not determine the actual cause of death. Although the doctors concluded that he probably was not shot, stabbed or strangled, they could not rule out a drug overdose, suffocation, or drowning.

After Stone's body was found, a police officer questioned Towler--who was then serving time on the drug charges at a drug rehabilitation facility--about the death, asking whether he thought it was possible that he could have been involved in Stone's murder. Towler replied: "I guess I could have been, man, I don't know. Never shot anyone in my whole life. Never stabbed anyone. Only thing I've ever done is hit someone with my hand."

A search of Towler's footlocker at the drug rehabilitation facility revealed a hand-drawn map of the area around Sonora where Stone's body was found. There were several stars on the map, one of which appeared to mark the location of the Stanislaus River. Towler admitted drawing the map, but explained that he had done so as part of a metric conversion exercise in his auto mechanics class at the facility.

Towler presented an alibi defense with respect to his whereabouts during the early morning hours of January 22, when Stone apparently disappeared and when Schoeppner initially testified that he had seen Towler in...

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  • People v. Horning, No. S044677.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • December 16, 2004
    ...Steven Horning as having perpetrated a 1988 robbery, which would seem to satisfy the corpus delicti rule. (People v. Towler (1982) 31 Cal.3d 105, 115, 181 Cal.Rptr. 391, 641 P.2d 1253 ["`slight or prima facie proof' " suffices to establish the corpus Because the court properly overruled def......
  • People v. Cooks, Cr. 15402
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • March 25, 1983
    ...557, 162 Cal.Rptr. 431, 606 P.2d 738; People v. Green (1980) 27 Cal.3d 1, 55, 164 Cal.Rptr. 1, 609 P.2d 468; People v. Towler (1982) 31 Cal.3d 105, 181 Cal.Rptr. 391, 641 P.2d 1253; Jackson v. Virginia (1979) 443 U.S. 307, 317-320, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 2788-2789, 61 L.Ed.2d Cooks argues that the ......
  • People v. Jackson, No. B125364.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • May 9, 2005
    ...S.Ct. 824, 17 L.Ed.2d 705; People v. Tewksbury (1976) 15 Cal.3d 953, 972, 127 Cal.Rptr. 135, 544 P.2d 1335. 116. People v. Towler (1982) 31 Cal.3d 105, 118, 181 Cal.Rptr. 391, 641 P.2d 117. See discussion at pages 141-143, ante. 118. Bruton v. United States (1968) 391 U.S. 123, 135, 88 S.Ct......
  • People v. Bean, No. S004387
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • September 19, 1988
    ...standard of appellate review is the same in cases in which the People rely primarily on circumstantial evidence. (People v. Towler (1982) 31 Cal.3d 105, 118, 181 Cal.Rptr. 391, 641 P.2d 1253.) Although it is the duty of the jury to acquit a defendant if it finds that circumstantial evidence......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
234 cases
  • People v. Horning, No. S044677.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • December 16, 2004
    ...Steven Horning as having perpetrated a 1988 robbery, which would seem to satisfy the corpus delicti rule. (People v. Towler (1982) 31 Cal.3d 105, 115, 181 Cal.Rptr. 391, 641 P.2d 1253 ["`slight or prima facie proof' " suffices to establish the corpus Because the court properly overruled def......
  • People v. Cooks, Cr. 15402
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • March 25, 1983
    ...557, 162 Cal.Rptr. 431, 606 P.2d 738; People v. Green (1980) 27 Cal.3d 1, 55, 164 Cal.Rptr. 1, 609 P.2d 468; People v. Towler (1982) 31 Cal.3d 105, 181 Cal.Rptr. 391, 641 P.2d 1253; Jackson v. Virginia (1979) 443 U.S. 307, 317-320, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 2788-2789, 61 L.Ed.2d Cooks argues that the ......
  • People v. Jackson, No. B125364.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • May 9, 2005
    ...S.Ct. 824, 17 L.Ed.2d 705; People v. Tewksbury (1976) 15 Cal.3d 953, 972, 127 Cal.Rptr. 135, 544 P.2d 1335. 116. People v. Towler (1982) 31 Cal.3d 105, 118, 181 Cal.Rptr. 391, 641 P.2d 117. See discussion at pages 141-143, ante. 118. Bruton v. United States (1968) 391 U.S. 123, 135, 88 S.Ct......
  • People v. Bean, No. S004387
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • September 19, 1988
    ...standard of appellate review is the same in cases in which the People rely primarily on circumstantial evidence. (People v. Towler (1982) 31 Cal.3d 105, 118, 181 Cal.Rptr. 391, 641 P.2d 1253.) Although it is the duty of the jury to acquit a defendant if it finds that circumstantial evidence......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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