Court of Appeal Recuses Orange County District Attorney’s Office in Murder Case

On November 23, 2016, the Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed the Superior Court’s Decision  recusing the entire District Attorneys Office in Orange County [OCDA] in the penalty phase of a case in which the defendant had previously pled guilty to eight counts of murder. The Superior Court concluded the OCDA had such a severe conflict of interest (its duty to fairly prosecute a case under the rule of law) with the [OCSD] Orange County Sheriff’s Department (in which the loyalty by prosecutors to  the sheriffs conflicted). As a result, the court held  it was unlikely the defendant could have a fair trial. This determination came after hearings over a period of six months in which nearly forty witnesses testified as to the systemic, known and prejudicial use of confidential informants that violated the constitutional rights of inmates, along with substantial discovery failures of the OCSD.

The ruling came after a  murder trial heavily reported by the media involving a defendant who with a barrage of gunfire killed eight individuals at a hair salon where his former wife was working. Although the Deputy Public Defender representing the defendant eventually discovered sheriff’s deputies were using confidential jailhouse informants to solicit incriminating statements from high-profile defendants, the District Attorney’s Office and its prosecutors on an ongoing basis failed to disclose this practice.

 

California Death Penalty. Vote November 8th

There are two measures  that deal with the death penalty in California that are on the ballot in the forthcoming November 8th election. California has the largest number of inmates awaiting the death penalty of all the states. The last execution in California was about ten years ago when it was legally challenged because of a claim, among other things, that the process of using lethal injections was inhumane. The last attempt to abolish the death penalty occurred in 2012.

The first measure on the ballot is Proposition 62, which replaces the death penalty with life in prison without any possibility of parole and applies retroactively to all previous and existing cases in which anyone is currently incarcerated and facing the death penalty. If enacted into law, it will [also] apply to all future first degree murder convictions in which the death penalty would have been the sentence. In September of this year, a Field poll was conducted of likely voters and found that a plurality of voters (the most posted online votes, but not a majority of all votes which would be over 50%) wanted to abolish the death penalty and, therefore, voted that it be repealed. It is noteworthy that there were a substantial number of “undecided” voters, however,  and they will likely make the difference in the outcome on November 8th.

Those that oppose the death penalty cite, among other things, the following reasons: it is unfairly applied to minorities, the procedure is inhumane, and the process is costing far too much to the people of the State of California. Proponents of execution as the form of punishment assert this penalty is reserved for what can best be described as a most heinous and despicable crime against humanity, causing unparalleled and life long suffering to the families of such victims; and, there are newly developed procedures associated with death penalty cases that are being considered.

The second measure on the ballot, Proposition 66, is considered a competing measure and much different than Proposition 62 in that it speeds up executions and the death penalty process by requiring the outcome of a defendant’s appeal to not take more than five (5) years. A little over 1/3 of those in the Field poll noted above were in favor of this Proposition, but more importantly, about 42% of those who were polled were “undecided” and will indeed make a difference in the outcome of this Proposition.

To promote justice for whom they claim at this point in time are at least 1000 victims and their families, there are District Attorneys in the multitude of California counties, the California Highway Patrol Association and Peace Officers Association, along with victim advocates who are among those behind Proposition 66 declaring it to be much needed. The Office of the California Legislative Analyst reported when it last made a study it costs nearly $50,000 per year per inmate to be incarcerated in our State Prisons. The cost of a death row inmate is about $90,000 more per year due to the costs of lengthy and complex appeals to the California Supreme Court, which currently has a backlog that can take ten or more years for a ruling.

Today, there are about 750 Death Row inmates that for decades have been incarcerated in prisons. Proponents of Proposition 66 also note such inmates get three meals a day in state prisons that have heating and air conditioning; with access to cable TV and a library; and each receive nearly unlimited heath care, including but not limited to eyeglasses; dental care; hearing aids; hip, kidney, knee, heart and sex change surgery, all of which are often far better than most of us who do not get free health care, including senior citizens who often cannot afford the escalating cost of living, prescription medicine and/or a satisfactory long term care facility. In summary, these are stated as further grounds to support Proposition 66 and limit the current delays and streamline the criminal justice system in California.

If both measures were to pass on November 8th, then the one with the greatest number of votes will become law in California.

You are urged to vote on these and other critical issues that concern all of us in the forthcoming election.

Appeals Court Upholds California Death Penalty

On November 12, 2015, the United States 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld
the constitutionality of the California Death Penalty and in so doing reversed the ruling by the US District Court that decided under the 8th Amendment it was unconstitutional as cruel and unusual punishment because of lengthy and unpredictable delays. The California Attorney General argued the delays were a result of the number and length of time involved in the legal maneuvers and appeal process that affords inmates their constitutional right to file appeals and writs of habeas corpus.

The history of the case is that in 2003, the California Supreme Court upheld the underlying conviction of the defendant/inmate on first-degree murder and rape charges.

In California since 1978, there have been approximately 900 defendants sentenced to death, with only 13 actual executions, and none in about ten years. Executions at San Quentin State Prison have been on hold since 2006 when a Federal Judge deemed there to be legal issues with the then current and past combined multi-drug lethal procedures. Since there is now a national shortage of single lethal drugs that too poses additional problems. In California, there are now about 750 inmates on death row (about 100 died while imprisoned due to other causes).

Boston Bombing – A Fortuitous Event?

On the anniversary of the Boston Bombing, April 15, 2013 in which three innocent victims were killed and nearly 300 others were injured, many are asking whether this was a fortuitous event, or calculated killings by terrorists using weapons of mass destruction. Even more compelling is the surfacing of information that one of the bombers has been linked to a triple murder in 2011 in which three individuals had their throats sliced. These insights raise a question as to whether the bombings last year could have been prevented had even only one of the radical extremists been arrested and convicted for the slayings in 2011.

Some commentators contend the government lacks the tools to prevent such horrific crimes to maintain the safety of our citizens. Others believe it may be politics and a lack of communication between agencies; they remind us of the 9/11 deaths they claim may have been prevented had the CIA and the FBI shared data bases and the substance of their respective investigations. The sad reality is that religious fanatics are rapidly increasing all over the world, and many in society are afraid to criticize under the veil of freedom of religion. Regardless how small in number they may be the fact remains the murders that have been committed have changed the way far too many people all over the world now have to live. Few will take issue with the fact we need to do more for the family members of those killed, other survivors and first responders, and to pay tribute to each and every one of them.No one disputes that we need to put a stop to senseless carnage.

Former BP Engineer Convicted of Obstructing Justice

In New Orleans today, there was a jury verdict after the U.S. Department of Justice charged Kurt Mix, a former BP engineer, of deleting hundreds of text messages from his iPhone, thereby thwarting the investigation of the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Although none of the top executives of BP have been charged with crimes, this corporate entity acknowledged its responsibility earlier this year by pleading guilty to manslaughter charges for the deaths of 11 workers; and thereafter, BP agreed to pay $4 billion in penalties.

Mix was part of the team of experts involved in the efforts by BP to stop oil from gushing out of their blown-out well using a technique called “top kill.” He had access to internal data about how much oil was actually flowing from the blown-out well. It was reported that Mix received 10 individual BP notices that he was obligated to preserve all of his spill-related records. One of the texts messages was an exchange with his supervisor in which Mix estimated there were about 630,000 gallons of oil spilling per day; this amount was actually about three times greater than the estimate BP disclosed to the public at the time. By deleting text messages, the BP engineer was destroying inculpatory evidence, which would be critical proof that would tend to establish guilt of BP and its agents and employees.

 The sentencing hearing is set for March 26, 2014, and Mix faces up to 20 years in prison for this conviction.

4 killed in Orange County shooting spree

A series of shootings across Orange County has left four people, including the gunman, dead. According to this report, the first shooting occurred at Ladera Ranch. It is believed that the shooter killed one person here prior to fleeing in an SUV. The suspect then continued to attempt to carjack at least two vehicles, which resulted in two more deaths. He shot and killed himself shortly after police found him in a stolen vehicle.

 

 

Suspect accused of killing California doctor was a patient with an appointment (Sam Spital)

COMMENTARY BY SAM SPITAL, Criminal Defense Lawyer, San Diego:

“The Fox.com news reported on January 30, 2013 that a 52 year old Newport Beach Urologist, Dr. Ronald Gilbert, was shot and killed by a 75 year old patient who had a scheduled appointment and brought a handgun with him into the exam room and fired multiple times. The article noted that the murder suspect had not previously seen Dr. Gilbert, but he had suffered from incontinence after a recent surgery although it was not revealed who performed it.

Two neighbors were interviewed and one said the accused claimed: ‘I had surgery and now I am worse than before the surgery.’ Another neighbor said he declared: ‘he wasn’t going to be around much longer.’ These facts and more may be the basis of the prosecution arguing this was a premeditated murder. The defendant can face life in prison or the death penalty.

In 1972, the California Supreme Court outlawed the death penalty. However, the California Constitution was modified through the voter-initiative process passing Proposition 17, thereby reinstating the death penalty. The statute was subsequently modified making the death penalty mandatory for specified crimes including murder one with special circumstances. Only a voter approved ballot measure can alter this statute, and in 2012 when the California voters had the opportunity to do so with Proposition 34, they rejected doing so by 53%.

At the time of the arraignment, the Defendant told the Superior Court he did not have the financial means to hire a private attorney, and the Judge set the matter over so that a Deputy Public Defender would be appointed on his behalf.”

–Sam Spital

SUSPECT IN SLAYING ARRESTED AFTER HUNT (Sam Spital)

Commentary by Criminal Law Attorney SAM SPITAL:“On January 30, 2013, the UT San Diego electronic edition published an article about a Riverside County 22 year old murder suspect who was arrested the previous day by the San Diego Police. He was identified as Matthew Rowley and reportedly in San Diego. After several hours, the alleged shooter was located with the use of a police helicopter and specially trained dogs who aided in the search; he was then taken into custody for the shooting death of 20 year old Corona resident, Daniel Stordahl.

The staff writer did not include any further information regarding the homicide victim, his family and any possible connection with the murder suspect. In addition, there was nothing further reported regarding the shooter to help determine any possible motive for the killing or surrounding facts and circumstances. It is unfortunate that very little is provided for the reader to have a balanced report rather than a story that simply identifies an event as if nothing more is important.

The role of the defense lawyer at the outset will undoubtedly be to investigate all of the facts in order to develop a plan of action and strategy to represent a client who is charged with murder. One or more private investigators will be employed as well as forensic experts. A Deputy Public Defender at County expense is assigned to a case when an individual does not have or cannot afford a private attorney.”

–Sam Spital

Navy officer murdered in Mission Valley apartment; brother in jail (Sam Spital)

Commentary by San Diego Homicide Defense and Criminal Law Attorney SAM SPITAL:

“On January 29, 2013, the digital edition of CBS Channel 8 news reported the 21 year old brother of the victim who was killed over the past weekend was arrested for first degree murder. Jonathan (Jake) Tenorio was 25 years old and found stabbed to death; he was from Guam and an Officer in the Navy.

Other news sources reported Jonathan was an Ensign who was serving on the San Diego based missile carrier Bunker Hill, was recently married and a U.S. Naval Academy graduate in Annapolis.  The brother who is now a suspect in the killing had just arrived in San Diego from Guam for the World Professional Jiu Jitsu Championship Trials.

While condolences go out to the family members, there was very little information presented by the author of the news piece about the victim. The story causes one to have mixed feelings in that it strains credulity to believe there could be any justifiable motive and/or possible explanation for a family killing, particularly that involving young, adult siblings. This shocking news, however, tends to point out the escalating life challenges, anxiety and stress that often underlie the increased number of crimes in what otherwise can be considered quiet neighborhoods that in the past have had few homicides if any.

The criminal defense lawyer will likely retain an experienced forensic team as well as private investigators to gather the facts to be in a position to better strategize the steps it will take in the criminal case.”

–Sam Spital

 

Officers Fatally Shoot Pursuit Suspect-The suspect driver allegedly accelerated toward the officers at a dead end (Sam Spital)

Commentary by Sam Spital, Criminal Lawyer- San Diego:

“NBC Channel 39 in its electronic news on January 12, 2012 reported an officer had shot an assailant at about 1:15 a.m. when there was a pursuit of a vehicle driving at an excessive speed that in spite of the police siren and red lights flashing eventually only came to a halt at a dead end street when it made a u-turn. When the officers stopped the vehicle and ordered the occupants to exit the unreported stolen vehicle, they did not do so and instead the car was accelerated towards the officers. Even after the officers admonished the 21 year old female driver to stop, she did not. Fearing their safety, the officers who had been on the police force from 4 to 6 years fired their weapons and the driver was shot and killed in the process.

It would be unreasonable to attribute blame to the officers in such exigent circumstances because enough facts are not known as to whether the officers could have prevented the situation if they had blocked the street to prevent the car from escaping and/or obtained assistance from other patrol cars to do the same. Suffice to say, the reporter did not interview the officers and obtain more information, nor did she contact any of the passengers in the stolen vehicle to develop a more complete account of the events in question.”

–Sam Spital