People v. Turner

Citation50 Cal.3d 668,268 Cal.Rptr. 706,789 P.2d 887
Decision Date26 April 1990
Docket NumberNo. S004658,S004658
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Parties, 789 P.2d 887 The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Thaddaeus Louis TURNER, Defendant and Appellant.

Dennis A. Fischer, Santa Monica (under appointment by the Supreme Court), Douglas W. Otto, Long Beach and John M. Bishop, Riverside, for defendant and appellant.

John K. Van de Kamp, Atty. Gen., Steve White, Chief Asst. Atty. Gen., Joel Carey and Garrett Beaumont, Deputy Attys. Gen., Sacramento, for plaintiff and respondent.

EAGLESON, Justice.

This is an automatic appeal from a judgment of death. Defendant Thaddeus Louis Turner was found guilty of one count of

[789 P.2d 890] first degree murder (Pen.Code, §§ 187, 189) 1 and one count of robbery (§ 211); the jury also found true a special circumstance that the murder was committed while defendant was engaged in the commission of a robbery (§ 190.2, subd. (a)(17)(i)). We find no prejudicial error affecting either the guilt or penalty determinations. We will therefore affirm the judgment in full.

A. Prosecution evidence.

The victim, Roy Savage, was a middle-aged Black man who taught mathematics at Merced College. He also directed the college's Extended Opportunity Program for disadvantaged youth. After his divorce, and while his daughter was away at college, Savage lived alone.

On Monday, April 16, 1984, Savage's cousin Gregory Mayo arrived by prearrangement at Savage's home to do yard work. Approaching the rear of the house, as was his custom, Mayo noticed that Savage's car was not in the garage, the screen door was wide open, the screen had been cut, and there was blood on the back door itself. Looking through a window, Mayo saw something lying covered up on the floor inside. He entered, lifted the covering, and found Savage's dead body.

After arming himself with an axe handle and a tire iron, Mayo searched the house. He noticed numerous missing items, including two stereo sets, a tape cassette player, miniature speakers, wall statues, clothing, and the upstairs bedroom television set. Mayo summoned the police.

Responding detectives found numerous signs of a violent struggle. There were blood spatters on the front doorknob; spatters and bloody shoe prints were also found in the entry foyer. In the family room, there were spatters on the ceilings and walls, near the fireplace hearth, behind the couch, and on the drapes. A coffee table had been pushed aside, and its glass top was shattered and bloody. One of the liquor bottles on the bar was broken. Telephone cords in the family room and the upstairs bedroom had been cut, though the kitchen telephone had not been disabled. There was no blood on the cut cords. Mayo indicated that a stereo set was missing from the family room, and a speaker wire in that area was torn. A bloody television set remained in the room. There were also bloodstains on the wall of the staircase to the second floor, and in nearby closets.

From the family room, the pattern of blood continued to the back door and out onto an enclosed rear patio. There detectives found Savage's body, lying face down. It had been covered neatly by two towels and perhaps a sheet. The victim's head was resting on a pillow.

The door onto the patio was bent, as if by pushing, and blood patterns suggested the body had been dragged from the door to its final position. A cabinet in the patio had been pried open. The victim was fully clothed, and his clothing was undisturbed. He had sustained multiple stab wounds. Mayo advised that two distinctive rings were missing from Savage's fingers, but these were later discovered under a rug less than a foot from the body. A gold chain Savage customarily wore was missing.

Mayo noticed that a fireplace tool was missing from the hearth in the family room; the implement was later found in one of the upstairs bedrooms. Mayo also located and turned over to police Savage's private telephone notebook. The notebook included the name "Thad" next to defendant's telephone number.

Pathologist Murdoch performed an autopsy which revealed that Savage had died of stab wounds between 24 and 48 hours earlier. Savage had been stabbed over 40 times in the abdomen, chest, neck, arms, leg, hands, and back. The wounds were most likely inflicted by a buck knife. One wound nearly severed Savage's thumb. The angles of the wounds differed, suggesting the victim was not stationary. Some of the wounds were defensive. Savage had bled to death from six penetrating The autopsy further disclosed that Savage had eaten recently, and no alcohol or common drugs were found in a sample of his blood. There was no semen in Savage's rectum, though the anal opening was looser than normal. Seminal fluid was found at the tip of the victim's penis, indicating either recent sexual excitement or activity, or ejaculation at death.

[789 P.2d 891] wounds that punctured the heart and lungs. The liver and spleen had also been perforated by penetrating abdominal wounds. At least two of the wounds on the body were inflicted after death.

Savage was last seen alive on Saturday, April 14, in defendant's company. Amir Falahi worked under Savage in the Extended Opportunity Program at Merced College, and was also a salesclerk at Gottschalk's Department Store in Merced. Shortly before the 6 p.m. closing time on April 14, Savage came into the store with defendant. Savage told Falahi defendant was doing some work for him; as compensation, Savage bought defendant a shirt and pants at a cost of $20 to $30.

Augusti Albritton testified that Savage and defendant came to Albritton's home on the evening of April 14. Savage returned a pickup truck borrowed from Albritton earlier in the week and retrieved his own Cadillac. Savage introduced defendant to Albritton during a 30- or 40-minute conversation.

Around 9 p.m. on Monday, April 16, two California Highway Patrol officers driving eastward on Ventura Boulevard in Fresno passed a Cadillac parked in the same direction. Defendant was standing in front of the car, talking to the driver of another vehicle. The driver's door of the Cadillac was open and sticking out into traffic, creating a hazard.

As the officers made a U-turn to investigate, defendant got into the Cadillac and drove off. The officers made a second U-turn to follow. At the same time, they ran a radio license check and learned that the Cadillac was reported stolen. They continued to follow as defendant ran a traffic light. The officers turned on their red light, but defendant pulled over only after they also activated their siren.

Officer Spencer ordered defendant to alight from the Cadillac and lie on the ground. As this occurred, a further radio dispatch indicated that the Cadillac might have been involved in a Merced murder. Spencer handcuffed defendant and discovered a buck knife in a scabbard on defendant's belt.

The Cadillac was towed and later searched pursuant to warrant. The television missing from Savage's bedroom was found in the car's trunk, and Savage's wallet was found in the glove compartment. Blood was discovered in the Cadillac's trunk and on its front seat. There was also blood on the stolen television, on a piece of paper found in the car, on defendant's buck knife, and on an athletic shoe worn by defendant at the time of his arrest. Samples from the television and the knife were consistent with the victim's blood, but inconsistent with defendant's.

Examination of defendant's person after his arrest disclosed only small scratches on his arms. Defendant had no self-defense wounds or injuries.

B. Defense evidence.

1. Defendant's testimony. Defendant took the stand in his own behalf. In response to questions from his own counsel, he acknowledged two prior felonies: a 1982 conviction for receiving stolen property, resulting in a prison sentence, and an earlier robbery conviction, for which defendant was committed to the California Youth Authority (CYA).

Defendant admitted stabbing and killing Savage. However, he claimed the incident was provoked by Savage's sudden, violent sexual advances.

Defendant testified as follows: After his release from prison in September 1983, he returned to Fresno to live with his mother and younger sister. At the time of his arrest for Savage's murder, he was working full-time as a laborer and carpenter's helper, earning $8 to $9 per hour.

According to defendant, he was waiting for a bus in Fresno one Friday evening after work. The bus stop was located at the corner of Blackstone and Belmont, near a homosexual bar. Savage, a stranger, pulled up to the stop in an orange Volkswagen and offered defendant a ride. During the two-mile drive downtown, Savage said he was an engineer from Merced and learned that defendant did occasional yard maintenance work. Savage offered defendant $30 to do yard work for him on Saturday of the following weekend; defendant accepted. Savage gave defendant his telephone number and agreed to pick defendant up in Fresno, some 50 miles from Merced, if defendant had no transportation.

Telephone arrangements were subsequently made that someone would pick up defendant in Fresno early on the agreed Saturday morning. Savage himself arrived at the appointed time in a pickup truck and drove defendant back to Merced. Defendant was "pretty gone" on marijuana and phencyclidine (PCP).

After working a short time in Savage's yard, defendant took a break and smoked half a "Sherm" (a cigarette laced with PCP). Savage invited defendant in and gave him orange juice. Defendant observed there was more work than one man could do; Savage said not to worry because a relative was coming soon to help. Savage engaged defendant in conversation, learning of his prison and drug problems, and gave defendant a tour of the house.

Sometime before noon, Savage said he needed to take a television to Gottschalk's Department Store for repairs. After they dropped off...

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