People v. Woodruff

Decision Date19 July 2018
Docket NumberS115378
Citation235 Cal.Rptr.3d 513,421 P.3d 588,5 Cal.5th 697
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Steve WOODRUFF, Defendant and Appellant.

Dennis C. Cusick, San Diego, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for Defendant and Appellant.

Kamala D. Harris and Xavier Becerra, Attorneys General, Dane R. Gillette, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Julie L. Garland, Assistant Attorney General, Holly D. Wilkens and Arlene A. Sevidal, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.


A jury convicted defendant of the first degree murder of Riverside Police Officer Charles Douglas Jacobs and the attempted murder of Police Officer Benjamin Baker. ( Pen. Code, §§ 187, 664.)1 It found true three special circumstances allegations: murder to avoid or prevent a lawful arrest, intentional killing of a peace officer engaged in the performance of his or her duties, and murder by means of lying in wait. (§§ 190.2, subd. (a)(5), (7), (15).) It also found true allegations of personal discharge of a firearm causing great bodily injury (§ 12022.53, subd. (d) ) and personal discharge of a firearm (§ 12022.53, subd. (c) ).

After finding that defendant did not have an intellectual disability, and following a penalty trial, the jury returned a verdict of death. The court denied the automatic motion to modify the verdict (§ 190.4, subd. (e) ) and imposed a judgment of death. It also imposed a prison sentence on the other counts and enhancement allegations. This appeal is automatic. (§ 1239, subd. (b).) We reverse the judgment of death because of the erroneous exclusion of a prospective juror during jury selection and remand the case for a new penalty trial. We affirm the judgment in all other aspects.

A. Guilt Phase
1. Overview

Police responded to a neighbor’s call that defendant’s mother, who lived in a two-unit house upstairs from defendant, was playing a loud radio outside, which had been a longstanding source of conflict. Because the mother refused to turn down the radio, officers began to arrest her. During the process, defendant, who had retrieved a gun from his house and was watching and listening from his porch, leaned into the outdoor stairwell leading up to the mother’s apartment, and, as observed by Officer Benjamin Baker and by a neighbor, fired up at the officers, killing Officer Douglas Jacobs. That evening, defendant admitted to the police that he shot Jacobs. At trial, however, he denied killing Jacobs, and he also presented evidence to contest the required mental state. The parties also presented contested evidence as to whether defendant had an intellectual disability and a brain injury.

2. Prosecution Evidence

On the afternoon of January 13, 2001, Holly Menzies called the Riverside Police Department because her neighbor Parthenia Carr had been playing very loud music outside for 45 minutes. Carr lived upstairs and her son, defendant, lived downstairs in a two-unit house. Carr would play her radio outside her door on the landing at the top of her stairs. Over the past year, Menzies and her husband had spoken to Carr several times about the loud music and had reported it to the police at least twice. Carr’s response invariably was contentious and angry.

On-duty Police Officer Baker responded to the disturbance call. When he arrived at the residence, he saw a portable radio outside, on the landing. The music was at its maximum volume and "extremely loud," such that other sounds were inaudible.

There was a porch on the ground floor. Seeing someone moving inside the house, Baker asked through the screen door if the person had called the police. The male, defendant, responded "No," and that it was his mother’s radio upstairs.

Baker went upstairs and turned off the radio. Carr opened the screen door and "began screaming and yelling, saying that it was her radio, it’s her property. [Baker had] no right to touch her radio ...." Baker informed Carr about the disturbance call. Carr was angry and "out of control pretty much the entire time [Baker] was there, constantly talking, not pausing between words, just constantly saying something." She threatened to sue Baker for violating her Fourth Amendment rights.

Baker radioed his supervisor, Sergeant Leach, for assistance. Leach responded he was en route. Baker continued to speak with Carr, who refused to cooperate. Baker informed Carr he would arrest her for disturbing the peace if she did not lower the radio volume.

Baker left to speak with Menzies. The music sounded "extremely loud" from outside Menzies’s house. Menzies signed a citizen’s arrest form but wanted to speak with Carr to resolve the situation informally. Baker accompanied Menzies to Carr’s landing to provide assistance. Carr came out on the landing and "immediately began screaming" at Menzies, pushed open the screen door into Menzies’s foot, and "lunged" toward Menzies, startling her. According to Menzies, she was jostled when Carr opened the door and she did not perceive that Carr was intentionally pushing her. Baker stepped between them and Menzies started walking down the stairs. Menzies observed Baker to be "exceedingly polite" throughout the encounter.

Baker grabbed Carr’s wrist to arrest her for disturbing the peace and for committing battery on Menzies. Menzies, who had returned to her home, could from a window hear Carr tell Baker he could not arrest her. At that point, Claude Carr (Claude), who, unbeknownst to Baker, had been sleeping inside, came out and stepped between Baker and Carr, within four inches of Baker, and told him to "[g]et your hands off my mom."

Baker then heard defendant say from downstairs in a threatening manner, "You better not touch my momma." Baker saw defendant leaning over the stairway from the porch. Mark Delgado, who lived across the street and had been outside washing his car, saw defendant come out of his house, walk to the end of the porch and look up, and say something like, "Don’t be touchin’ my momma. Leave my momma alone."

Feeling unsafe, Baker called for immediate assistance. Within a couple of minutes, Jacobs, Baker’s beat partner, arrived and Baker met him in the middle of the stairs to brief him on the situation. Baker had determined to arrest Carr and Claude, and wanted to wait for Leach for additional assistance. While waiting, Baker and Jacobs walked up to the landing to prevent Carr and Claude from going inside and creating an unsecure situation. The officers informed Carr they were detaining her for disturbing the peace. Carr said she was going into her house if the officers did not leave and started to do so. Baker grabbed her wrist to start the arrest. Claude tried to grab Baker, so Jacobs grabbed Claude’s wrist and put him in a wrist lock. Baker let go of Carr to assist Jacobs. Carr went into the house. When Claude became still, Baker reached for his handcuffs.

As Baker moved to handcuff Claude, he heard a gunshot. Baker immediately looked down the stairs where the shot came from and saw defendant standing on the porch, leaning over the railing with his body minimally exposed, pointing a handgun up at the officers. Baker let go of Claude, saw Jacobs going into the house, and thought Jacobs was taking cover. According to Claude, Jacobs looked surprised and pushed Claude to the ground as Claude heard gunfire. Baker was not sure if he was the only one on the landing at that point. He grabbed his gun, a .40-caliber firearm, and fired at defendant.

Baker saw defendant, who had fired the first shot, point the gun in his direction and shoot multiple times. Jacobs did not have his gun out. Defendant retreated after Baker’s third shot.

After defendant had told the officers to leave Carr alone, Delgado saw him walk back into his house for a second and come back out. He looked across at Delgado. Delgado noticed defendant had a silver- or chrome-plated handgun. When Delgado looked over, defendant put the gun behind his back slightly. Defendant walked to the end of the porch, peeked up over the railing furtively, held the gun up and aimed, firing twice without hesitation. He then walked quickly back into the house. Delgado had an unobstructed view of defendant. Defendant looked agitated and like he "didn’t think twice" before getting the gun and shooting. No more than 30 seconds passed from the time defendant told the police to leave Carr alone to the time he fired the gun. Menzies had heard Claude yell "No, don’t," in a "heart-wrenching plea" to defendant just before she heard shots.

Baker realized Jacobs, who was lying faceup with his torso in Carr’s doorway, had been shot. Blood was coming out of Jacobs’s nose "like a water faucet," and his airway was full of blood. Baker could not feel a pulse. He radioed that an officer was down. Baker saw Leach arriving and advised him that defendant was downstairs and had shot Jacobs. Leach took Carr and Claude down to the curb. A paramedic arriving to assist observed that Jacobs’s gun was holstered.

Other officers arrived. They set up a perimeter around the house, announced their presence over a speaker system, and ordered anyone in the house to come out.

Suddenly the downstairs door flew open, defendant yelled that he was coming out, and he threw out a rifle. Defendant crawled out of the house naked. The police arrested defendant and put him in a squad car. They later found a jammed bullet in the rifle.

Defendant told the officer who was handcuffing him that he was sorry or that he had not meant "to do this." During the ride to the station, defendant volunteered that he did not mean to kill the officer and had panicked because they would not let Carr go.

After securing the house, officers found defendant’s four-year-old daughter hiding under a bed. They found a rifle and bullets on the bedroom floor along with .30- and .44-caliber ammunition in the closet area, a Lorcin nine-millimeter handgun on the kitchen stove and a rifle in the pantry, and expended shotgun shells and two 9-millimeter...

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