People v. Williams

Decision Date15 May 2018
Docket NumberC081267
Citation23 Cal.App.5th 396,232 Cal.Rptr.3d 671
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
Parties The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Michael WILLIAMS, Defendant and Appellant.

Scott Concklin, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant.

Xavier Becerra, Attorney General, Gerald A. Engler, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Michael P. Farrell, Assistant Attorney General, Stephen G. Herndon and Darren K. Indermill, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

Duarte, J.Defendant Michael Williams stabbed his wife, victim Tanganyika Hoover Williams, twice in the neck, and she bled to death. The trial court permitted the People to introduce evidence at trial of defendant's then 23-year-old conviction (out of Oklahoma) for shooting with intent to kill and the circumstances thereof.

Defendant's jury found him guilty of first degree murder with personal use of a deadly weapon. The jury then found defendant sane, and the trial court found he had a prior serious felony conviction and prior strike (the 1992 Oklahoma conviction). ( Pen. Code, §§ 187, subd. (a), 667, subds. (a), (b) - (i), 1170.12, 12022, subd. (b)(1).) The court sentenced defendant to prison for 50 years to life plus six years. Defendant timely appealed.

Defendant claims in part that the trial court abused its discretion when it permitted the People to introduce evidence underlying his 1992 Oklahoma conviction. As we will explain, we agree that this evidence had scant—if any —relevance to this case, and any relevance it did have was vastly outweighed by its potential for unfair prejudice. This evidence was heavily relied on by the prosecutor in arguing for premeditation and deliberation in what was otherwise not a strong case for first degree murder, thus the error was prejudicial.

However, because sufficient evidence (apart from the prior acts evidence) was presented in the case-in-chief to support first degree murder, we reject defendant's claims that trial counsel should have moved to acquit and that no substantial evidence supports the verdict. Therefore, a retrial on the first degree murder charge is not precluded. In light of these holdings, we do not address the many other claims raised.

FACTS

There was no dispute that defendant killed the victim on the morning of July 8, 2014. The issues at trial were his state of mind and his sanity at the time of the killing.

People's Case

According to the victim's son, the victim was married to defendant for less than a year, but they had been together for three or four years. In July 2014, the victim lived with her daughter Taquita Lugo, but sometimes stayed with defendant in a van or a motel. The victim received Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and used crack cocaine off and on. Her son helped the victim move her things out of the Super 8 Motel on Sunday, July 6, 2014. She told him her marriage was in doubt, and she was going to meet defendant to discuss it. The next day at Lugo's house the victim told him she had decided to leave defendant and obtain a divorce, though she still loved defendant. Her son helped her return some clothing she had bought for defendant, and they parted at approximately 7:00 that night (July 7). After he learned the victim was dead, he found messages from defendant on a telephone answering machine at Lugo's house, in which defendant asks why the victim took his "stuff" and said he loved her.

Three witnesses saw the victim bleeding on the ground early on July 8, and testified that when asked who did this to her, she said defendant's name or that her husband did it. One of these witnesses, a peace officer, testified that the victim also told him that she had been stabbed with a "writing pen." Another testified that he returned home from work at approximately 6:00 a.m. and saw a van parked by his property, as well as a white car, saw a man and a woman interacting, and heard music playing. He woke up at 7:45 a.m. to the sound of his dogs barking, heard screaming, and found the victim on the sidewalk.

The victim had a potentially lethal amount of methamphetamine in her system, but that did not kill her. Death was caused by two stab wounds to the neck. There was a defensive cut on her left thumb and fresh blunt force injuries on her head, neck, torso, and extremities.

The victim's purse was found in defendant's van about a mile away. Methamphetamine pipes and four knives were found in the van. When defendant was arrested on July 29, 2014, he had a Greyhound bus itinerary for Oklahoma City departing August 1 that had been printed on July 28. When arrested, defendant initially gave the police a false name.

A woman testified that in 1991 she lived with her mother (Betty T.) in Oklahoma. Her sister Becky W. was then married to defendant. The parties stipulated that in 1991, Becky W. was estranged from defendant and was staying with her mother, (Betty T.). One night defendant tried to bust in the door and struggled with Becky W., trying to pull her out of the house. Betty T. told defendant to leave, whereupon defendant shot Betty T. in the head. She survived.

The defense did not move to acquit after the People rested.

Defense Case

Defendant testified he was convicted of shooting with intent to kill arising from the 1991 Oklahoma incident, and he had served his time for that crime.

The victim here had been homeless before she began living with defendant. He was on medications (including Risperdal ) to treat bipolar schizophrenia, for which he had been treated since about 2005 or 2006, although he had been diagnosed earlier in Oklahoma where he served a short stint in a locked mental institution in the 1980's. He then heard voices telling him to do things, saw shadowy figures, and had trouble holding a train of thought. The medications stopped these symptoms, although he did not always take them. When he did not take them, the symptoms would reappear. He was taking his medications while in jail. The victim, too, took psychiatric medications, but they would both stop when they were using drugs, such as methamphetamine. They had been together for three years, and married in 2013, over the disapproval of her family. They lived in motels or in his van after they were kicked out of a rental house, although for about six months they lived with the victim's daughter, Lugo. They were on SSI because of mental disability, and each received $970 per month.

One day defendant returned to Lugo's house to find his things packed, and he was told he was not welcome there anymore. He then stayed in motels when he had money and in his van when he had none. He and the victim had had many short breakups—a few days long—over small arguments.

In 2014, both defendant and the victim were taking their medications about half the time. They were smoking methamphetamine together a couple of times a week, spending about $100 to $150 per week on the drug.

On July 1, 2014, the victim received $10,000 in SSI back-payments. They bought a larger than usual amount of methamphetamine and began smoking it, using continuously for the next week. On July 7 the victim went to spend time with Lugo. Defendant became worried after the victim did not return telephone messages. He wondered whether they would stay together.

Defendant stayed in his van that night, and the victim arrived in her car the next morning while it was still dark. They talked and smoked drugs for about 15 or 20 minutes. At approximately 6:00 a.m. on July 8, the victim left to be with her daughter. At that point, defendant still loved her, and thought she still loved him, though he had doubts about their future. He then called and left messages at Lugo's telling the victim he was in love with her.

After about an hour and a half she returned, they hugged, got in the van, and they again smoked drugs.

While in the van, defendant asked the victim if she was going to leave him, who she was leaving him for, and why she was leaving, and he became increasingly angry when she did not answer his questions. Defendant held the victim by the shoulders and asked her more of the same questions, but she just smirked at him, which inflamed him and he began shaking her. He reached down for a box cutter and put it to her throat to scare her. They struggled, she got cut, and she began to bleed. They were wrestling and rolling around inside the van, which caused her to bleed. He did not want to cut her but was "dead angry," "wasn't thinking clearly," and heard "racing thoughts in [his] mind." He had no intent to hurt or kill her. He heard voices, one of which said "get her" and he cut the victim. She then left the van. He thought he would be accused of hurting her and left because he was scared.

On cross-examination, defendant explained that the victim was cut once, then she asked to go to a doctor and then was cut a second time—though he did not remember how that happened—and then she was cut on the thumb while fighting for her life. He knew he was a wanted man, and planned to go back to Oklahoma to escape punishment, once his August SSI money came in. He admitted lying about his name when he was arrested. He had shaved his head, but claimed he did not do it to evade arrest. When shown a videotaped interrogation in which he told a detective he did not remember when he last saw his wife, he claimed he was being truthful, as he did not regain his memory of the events until after he received his medication in jail. However, he had also told the detective that the last time he had seen the victim was a month before and he conceded that had been a lie. He admitted that he had lied through most of the interrogation, to avoid culpability, but testified he did not intend to stab the victim.

When confronted by the prosecutor with evidence of a conversation he had engaged in while in jail, defendant admitted he knew the conversation's other participant (Gwen Nance, a friend of his) and had spoken with her on the telephone while in custody. He admitted telling her he...

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