People v. Williams

Decision Date24 March 1988
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties, 751 P.2d 395 The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Keith Daniel WILLIAMS, Defendant and Appellant. In re Keith Daniel WILLIAMS on Habeas Corpus. Crim. 20911, 23904.
[751 P.2d 403] Richard B. Mazer, San Francisco, for defendant and appellant and petitioner

John K. Van de Kamp, Atty. Gen., Edmund D. McMurray, Garrett Beaumont, Jana Tuton and J. Robert Jibson, Deputy Attys. Gen., for plaintiff and respondent.

EAGLESON, Justice.

A jury convicted Keith Daniel Williams of three counts of first degree murder (Pen.Code, §§ 187, 189) 1 with special circumstances (§ 190.2) and use of a firearm (§ 12022.5). The same jury found that he was sane during the commission of the offenses and determined that death was the appropriate penalty for each offense (§ 190). This appeal is automatic (§ 1239). A petition for writ of habeas corpus was filed in conjunction with the appeal, and an order to show cause issued thereon. Upon careful examination of each of defendant's numerous arguments, we find no prejudicial error and affirm the conviction. We also conclude that appellant has failed to establish either on the basis of the appellate record or by evidence offered in support of his petition for writ of habeas corpus that his trial counsel failed to provide constitutionally adequate representation. We shall therefore affirm the judgment of conviction, as modified to reflect a single multiple-murder special circumstance, and penalty. The petition for writ of habeas corpus will be denied.

Defendant was charged by information in count I with the murder of Miguel Vargas. The information alleged that the killing was willful, deliberate, and premeditated; was committed with express malice during the commission of robbery (§ 211); and that defendant used a firearm in committing the offense. It was also alleged that three special circumstances existed in that defendant also murdered Salvador Vargas and Lourdes Meza, and committed the murder of Miguel Vargas willfully with deliberation and premeditation during a robbery. The jury found each allegation to be true.

In count II defendant was charged with the murder of Salvador Vargas. The additional allegations differed only in the first special circumstance, that charging also the murder of Miguel Vargas. Again the jury found each allegation to be true.

Count III charged defendant with the willful, deliberate and premeditated murder of Lourdes Meza, alleging that this murder had been committed with express malice and during the commission of robbery, kidnapping (§ 207), and rape (§ 261), with use of a firearm. The four special circumstances alleged were that defendant also murdered Miguel and Salvador Vargas, and committed the murder of Lourdes Meza during a rape and a kidnapping. The jury found that the offense did not occur during a rape, rejected the rape special circumstance In a multifaceted attack on the conviction and sentence which we summarize here and address in detail below, defendant argues that the trial court erroneously admitted evidence of his prior criminal record and other criminal conduct; that lay opinion evidence was admitted erroneously; and that he received constitutionally inadequate assistance by his appointed counsel during the guilt, sanity, and penalty phases of the trial. 2 He also argues that he was improperly charged with and convicted of more than one "multiple-murder" special circumstance, and that the robbery and kidnapping special circumstances must be set side because he was not separately charged with and convicted of those offenses.

and otherwise found the allegations of count III to be true.

In his attack on the finding that he was sane at the time of the commission of the offense, defendant claims that the court's instructions to the jury were confusing and erroneous. As to the penalty trial he alleges that he was prejudiced by prosecutorial misconduct; that the court's instructions were not adequate; that error occurred in the appointment of psychiatrists and in permitting the jury to consider various evidence admitted during the guilt and sanity phases of the trial; that the trial court erred in declining to modify the penalty; and that the death penalty is disproportionate as a matter of law. In addition he argues that the 1977 death penalty law, under which he was tried, convicted, and sentenced, is unconstitutional under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.


With the exception of conflicting evidence as to the quantity of alcohol and drugs defendant had consumed and its possible effect on his mental state at the time of the homicides, the evidence is essentially undisputed. The events leading up to and most relevant to the homicides commenced during the latter half of September 1978 when defendant and Robert Tyson (hereafter identified as Tyson) stole a .22 Beretta pistol and several other items from their employer of one week, Terry Judd, in Corning. On Saturday, September 30, 1978, they robbed a couple who had parked their camper in the John Street Park in Modesto, taking from them the camper and its contents. After the robbery they drove the camper to the Tyson residence near Galt where the contents were removed. Some were sold on Sunday. On Monday, October 2, appellant drove the camper to the area of Lake Camanche and burned it. Tyson and Karen Tyson (hereafter identified as Karen) accompanied him in another vehicle.

Among the items in the camper was a checkbook. The other valuables taken from the camper were kept at the Tyson residence and offered for sale there at a yard sale conducted by Karen over the four-day period from October 4 through October 7. Miguel Vargas and Lourdes Meza, who lived with Miguel on a dairy ranch near Merced, attended the yard sale on Friday, October 6. Notwithstanding their limited English and defendant's limited Spanish, defendant conveyed to Miguel an interest in purchasing Miguel's car. Defendant road-tested the car and noted that the registration was in the glove compartment. No purchase was agreed upon at that time. Defendant told Tyson and Karen that it would have been easy to load Miguel and Lourdes into the trunk of the car and take them to a field.

Miguel and Lourdes returned to the Tyson home on Saturday and completed the sale. Defendant paid for the car with a $1,500 check written on one of the checks stolen earlier in the Modesto robbery. Defendant took possession of the car, but Miguel retained possession of the registration slip with the understanding that it would be turned over to defendant when the check cleared on Monday. Defendant gave Miguel a receipt for the car. Later On Sunday, October 8, defendant and Tyson drove to the home which Miguel and Lourdes shared with Miguel's cousin Salvador Vargas. Their purpose was to rob, and they had discussed killing Miguel and Lourdes. Defendant intended to take the money he had seen in Miguel's possession, and to take any other items that might be pawned. He also planned to obtain the registration slip and to retrieve both the check and the receipt defendant had given for the car. Defendant, armed with the fully loaded 10-shot Beretta, and Tyson, armed with a 9-shot semiautomatic .22 Storm-Luger pistol, arrived at the Vargas home in the early evening only to find a complicating factor--guests were visiting. Leaving their weapons in the car they joined the group in the house: Miguel, Lourdes, and their three visitors. Salvador had retired to an upstairs bedroom as he was scheduled to work at 11 p.m. Defendant spoke of the car's excellent performance and mileage, assured Miguel that the check which Miguel still had in his pocket was good, and said he would meet Miguel at the bank on Monday to help him cash the check.

that day Miguel returned to the Tyson home and offered to buy the Beretta from defendant. At that time Miguel displayed a "wad" of bills from which he proposed to make payment. Defendant noted that Miguel had the check in his shirt pocket.

The visitors soon departed. Defendant and Tyson returned to their car where they retrieved their guns. Miguel had again expressed interest in purchasing the Beretta. When they reentered defendant held the Beretta at Miguel's neck. Miguel thought he was joking and Tyson pulled defendant's arm away, explaining to defendant later that his own gun was not loaded, and that he had seen Salvador on the second floor. Defendant then suggested they all go out together for a drink, but Miguel declined because he had to work. Tyson proposed that he and defendant get some beer and bring it to the house. Defendant left with Tyson.

Tyson testified that he had hoped defendant would abandon his plan once they left the house, but defendant did not do so. Rather, he told Tyson that he "wanted to take him out right then." Defendant then outlined his scheme telling Tyson that Tyson was to make Miguel lie down while defendant took care of Salvador upstairs. The pair then returned to the Vargas house. Miguel opened the door. Miguel again believed defendant was joking when defendant ordered him to lie down, but he did so when Tyson repeated the command. Defendant ran up the stairs where he yelled at Salvador and Lourdes to be quiet. He then directed Tyson to bring Miguel upstairs. When Tyson did so he saw Salvador lying on the floor. Defendant ordered Miguel into a bedroom and told him to lie down. He then directed Tyson to take Lourdes downstairs and shoot her. Tyson took her to a downstairs bedroom. He heard defendant threaten to shoot Miguel and Salvador if they did not tell him where their money was. He then heard four shots.

Defendant described the homicides in his testimony on cross-examination, acknowledging both that the purpose of the trip...

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