People v. Zamudio

Decision Date21 April 2008
Docket NumberNo. S074414.,S074414.
Citation181 P.3d 105,43 Cal.4th 327,75 Cal.Rptr.3d 289
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
PartiesThe PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Samuel ZAMUDIO, Defendant and Appellant.

Michael J. Hersek, State Public Defender, under appointment by the Supreme Court, and Peter R. Silten, Deputy State Public Defender, for Defendant and Appellant.

Bill Lockyer and Edmund G. Brown, Jr., Attorneys General, Robert R. Anderson and Dane R. Gillette, Chief Assistant Attorneys General, Pamela C. Hamanka, Assistant Attorney General, John R. Gorey and Herbert S. Tetef, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

CHIN, J.

On November 17, 1997, a jury convicted defendant Samuel Zamudio of two counts of first degree murder (Pen.Code, §§ 187, subd. (a), 189)1 and two counts of first degree residential robbery (§ 211). As to each of the convictions, the jury also found true allegations that defendant personally used a knife during the commission of the offense (§ 12022, subd. (b)). As to the murders, the jury also found true special circumstance allegations that defendant was convicted in this proceeding of more than one first degree murder (§ 190.2 subd. (a)(3)) and that the murders were committed while defendant was engaged in the commission of robbery (§ 190.2, subd. (a)(17)). On November 21, 1997, the jury fixed the penalty at death and, on October 5, 1998, the trial court imposed that sentence. This appeal is automatic. (§ 1239, subd. (b).) For reasons that follow, we vacate one multiple-murder special-circumstance finding and otherwise affirm the guilt and penalty judgments in their entirety.

I. Facts
A. Guilt Phase

On Sunday, February 11, 1996, the dead bodies of 79-year-old Elmer Benson and 74-year-old Gladys Benson were found in their home.2 The evidence presented at trial established that defendant, who lived next door to, was friends with, occasionally did household chores for, and owed money to, the Bensons, stabbed them to death and stole their property.

1. Prosecution Evidence

Around 9:00 a.m., on February 11, firefighter/paramedics for the Los Angeles County Fire Department received a call to respond to the Bensons' home in South Gate. Inside, they found the dead bodies of Elmer and Gladys. They notified police and, around 11:37 a.m., homicide detectives responded to the scene to investigate. They found Gladys's body on the kitchen floor with numerous stab wounds, clad in a nightgown and robe that were raised above her waist, exposing her pubic area. Gladys was still wearing a bracelet, ring, and chain. Elmer's body, which also had numerous stab wounds, was on the living room floor near his wheelchair.3 There was blood in the kitchen and living room, and nowhere else in the house. Bloody shoe prints on the kitchen floor near Gladys's body led out of the kitchen and into the living room to Elmer's body. There was fresh coffee in a pot near the sink and two cups had been poured; one was on a table in the living room near Elmer's wheelchair. A newspaper was on the front porch, and no lights were on inside (other than a hallway nightlight). Based on these circumstances, Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff Donald Garcia, who was assigned to the homicide bureau's detective division and who participated in the investigation, opined that the murders occurred "at first light, approximately 6:00 to 6:30 in the morning." The coroner placed the time of death at 7:00 a.m., plus or minus three or four hours.

South Gate Police Officer Dave Scott arrived at the Bensons' home earlier that morning—approximately 9:30 or 9:45 a.m.—and was told to maintain the outside perimeter of the crime scene. Shortly after arriving, he interviewed Jacqueline Zamudio, who is defendant's daughter and who first discovered the Bensons'.bodies, and Ivan Zalapa, who is defendant's nephew and who made the 911 call. During the interview with Jacqueline, defendant, who lived next door to the Bensons in his brother-in-law's house, walked up and began interjecting comments. He repeatedly said he was good friends with, and close to, the Bensons. He also said he often did favors for them and repaired things around their house. While listening to defendant, Scott received a dispatch to call the station, and asked if he could use defendant's telephone. Defendant invited Scott into his living room to make the call. While Scott was dialing, defendant again commented that he was close to the Bensons. He also stated he had recently borrowed $100 from them, was supposed to repay the loan within two weeks, gave the Bensons the "pink slip" to his car as collateral, and believed the title document was still in the Bensons' house. After Scott finished his telephone call, defendant took Scott to the kitchen, showed him a calendar with a big "X" on February 21, and said the "X" was a reminder that the loan was due by February 22.

Shortly before noon, Sergeant Martin van Lierop of the South Gate Police Department, who was assigned to the detective bureau, arrived at the Bensons' house and began investigating the crime scene.4 Later, he and Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff Timothy Miley, who was assigned to the homicide bureau's detective division, canvassed the neighborhood for witnesses. They asked defendant, Jacqueline, and Ivan to come to the South Gate police station for interviews as potential witnesses and to provide background information on the victims. Defendant, Jacqueline, and Ivan agreed, and were transported to the station, which was only two blocks away. During his interview, defendant said he never left his house the previous night, left around 5:00 or 6:00 a.m. that Sunday morning to visit a friend, and returned around 10:00 a.m. He also stated he was last in the Bensons' home the previous Thursday, February 8, when he fixed their washing machine, changed the oil in their truck, and ate breakfast with them. He also talked about the $100 loan, explaining that he (1) borrowed the money on February 8 because he was not working, had no money, and did not want to ask his wife for money, (2) gave the Bensons the "pink slip" to his car as collateral, (3) was supposed to repay the loan by February 22, and (4) did not want his wife to know about the loan.

After the interview, Miley and van Lierop returned to the crime scene, searched for evidence, and spoke with other members of defendant's family. As a result of their conversation with defendant's wife, Maria Barron, they had more questions for defendant, so they returned to the station and reinterviewed him.

During his second interview, defendant gave the following, different account of his whereabouts: He left his house around 7:00 p.m. on Saturday and drove to the El Paraiso bar in Los Angeles, where he stayed until closing at 2:00 a.m. on Sunday morning and spent all of his money buying alcohol for himself and others. After closing, he drove two women who worked at the bar—including one named Sarahi whom he had been seeing for awhile—to their homes. He returned home around 3:00 or 3:30 a.m., unsuccessfully tried to sleep, and again left his house between 5:00 and 5:30 a.m., to visit a friend, Juan Ledesma. Ledesma was not home, so defendant spoke with Ledesma's mother. He then went to the garment district in downtown Los Angeles and just walked around (because the stores were not open). He returned home again around 10:00 a.m.

At the end of the second interview, Miley asked if he could look at defendant's shoes. Defendant removed his shoes and gave them to Miley. The officers found what they believed to be "unique ... zig-zag patterns" on the soles and heel. Miley photographed defendant holding the shoes and put them in a bag. The officers then asked defendant what he had been wearing the previous night. Defendant replied that he was still wearing the same pants but that the shirt he had been wearing was at his house.

Miley and van Lierop then took defendant and the bag with his shoes back to the crime scene. Defendant went inside his house with van Lierop, retrieved a shirt that was hanging on his bedpost in his bedroom and gave it, along with the pants he was wearing, to van Lierop. Meanwhile, Miley took defendant's shoes to the Bensons' home and showed them to Stephan Schliebe, a criminalist with the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department. Schliebe observed that the general pattern on the soles of the shoes was similar to the pattern of the bloody shoe prints on the Bensons' kitchen floor. The shoes tested positive for blood, and the officers were advised of this result. Schliebe later compared exemplar shoe prints from the shoes to life-size enlargements of photographs of the bloody shoe prints on the Bensons' kitchen floor. He testified at trial that two of the bloody shoe prints were made by defendant's left shoe "to the exclusion of all other shoes."

Van Lierop then took defendant to the police station and arrested him. He retained a watch and a ring defendant was wearing, all of the clothes defendant was wearing, including his socks, and approximately 40 coins found in defendant's pocket. Many of the coins were from the 1960's and the 1940's, including a 1942 Mercury head dime, a 1947 dime, and a 1944 nickel. During a search of the Bensons' house, police found three old coins— a 1944 Mercury head dime, a 1963 penny, and a 1968 penny—on Gladys's partially made bed. Micki Downey, the Bensons' daughter, testified that the Bensons collected old coins from the 1960's and earlier. Downey also testified that after the murders, family members were through the Bensons' belongings, but were unable to find a number of old coins they expected to find. Linda Bouffard, Gladys's daughter and Elmer's stepdaughter, testified that in the mid 1960's, when she worked in a bank, Elmer started collecting coins— including old dimes, nickels, and pennies— and, "for about a week," gave her $20 every morning and asked her to bring back a roll of quarters and two rolls of dimes. She also...

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