California Supreme Court

Death Penalty Delays Not Violative of Eighth Amendment, Unanimous California Supreme Court

The lawyer for a death row inmate failed to demonstrate that systematic delays in the resolution of capital cases result in an arbitrary process that violates the Eighth Amendment, the California Supreme Court unanimously ruled yesterday.
The court, which has rejected such arguments in the past, asked the parties for supplemental briefing on the issue after a federal district judge ruled last year that such delays rendered the state’s death penalty unconstitutional.
But while Ropati Seumanu is free to make a more individually focused argument in a habeas corpus petition, Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar wrote, he is not entitled to have his sentence overturned merely because more than 14 years have elapsed since he was sentenced to die for a murder in his hometown of Heyward.
“Our conclusion would be different were the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to ask all capital inmates who have exhausted their appeals to draw straws or roll dice to determine who would be the 1st in line for execution,” the jurist said. “But the record in this case does not demonstrate such arbitrariness,” she continued.
“Unquestionably, some delay occurs while this court locates and appoints qualified appellate counsel, permits those appointed attorneys to prepare detailed briefs, allows the Attorney General to respond, and then carefully evaluates the arguments.”
Those delays safeguard the defendants’ rights, rather than violate them, she said.
Seumanu was 22 when he, his brother and 2 teenagers stole a car one night in May 1996 and confronted Nolan Pamintuan, 25, who had just returned from a pre-wedding dinner with his fiancee, according to testimony.
The robbers took an inscribed Movado watch his fiancee had given him as a wedding gift and $300 that they forced him to withdraw from a bank ATM. After expressing irritation at the fact he had no more money to give them and had reached the ATM’s withdrawal limit, Seumanu killed him with a shotgun blast to the chest, according to the testimony.
His brother, Tautai Seumanu, pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to 28 years to life in prison, and the two teenagers were given shorter sentences for manslaughter, kidnapping and robbery.
Ropati Seumanu, who served as a deacon in the First Samoan Gospel Church, where his father was pastor, was also described by a witness as the founder of a gang called Sons of Samoa, affiliated with the Crips. Witnesses said he committed numerous assaults in the years before the murder.
In addition to rejecting Seumanu’s Eighth Amendment claim, the justices concluded that he was not entitled to a reversal based on prosecutorial misconduct.
Werdegar was critical of Deputy District Attorney Angela Backers for, among other things, telling the jury that Seumanu’s lawyers were putting on a “sham” defense and didn’t believe their client’s alibi, for asking jurors to view the case through the eyes of the victim, who begged for his life before being shot, and for telling the jury – after the defense lawyers introduced themselves and their client – that the deceased was her “client.”
But none of those remarks affected the verdict, Werdegar said, because the evidence of guilt was strong and the jury was properly instructed not to be swayed by prejudice or sympathy and that the remarks of counsel were not evidence.
The case is People vs. Seumanu, 15 S.O.S. 4375.
Source: Metropolitan News Company, August 26, 2015
  1. The Eighth Amendment (Amendment VIII) to the United States Constitution is the part of the United States Bill of Rights (ratified December 15, 1791) prohibiting the federal government from imposing excessive bail, excessive fines, or cruel and unusual punishments, including torture.


CALIFORNIA : Death sentence upheld for Montebello woman who murdered her husband – Angelina Rodriguez

february 20, 2014(latimes)

Angelina Rodriguez during her 2004 sentencing for murder. Her death sentence was upheld Thursday by the California Supreme CourtSAN FRANCISCO — The California Supreme Court unanimously upheld the death penalty Thursday for a Montebello woman convicted of murdering her husband for life insurance and implicated in the choking death years earlier of her baby daughter.


Angelina Rodriguez fatally poisoned her husband, a special education teacher, by serving him drinks laced with oleander and antifreeze in 2000, a few months after persuading him to take out joint life insurance policies, the court said.

It was her second attempt, according to the ruling written by Justice Ming W. Chin.  She had previously tried to kill him by loosening natural gas valves in their garage, the court said.

Rodriguez had married Jose Francisco Rodriguez several months before his death.

During her murder trial, the prosecution also presented evidence implicating her in the 1993 death of her 13-month-old daughter, Alicia. Rodriguez was married to another man at the time.

The baby died after choking on the rubber nipple of a pacifier. Two months earlier, Rodriguez had taken out a $50,000 life insurance policy on the baby—without her then-husband’s knowledge—and made herself the beneficiary, the court said.

Rodriguez and Alicia’s father also sued the manufacturer of the pacifier, which had been recalled based on five consumer complaints that it had broken apart. The company paid a $710,000 settlement.

While behind bars for the murder of her husband, Rodriguez  tried to dissuade a witness from testifying against her, the court said. The jury convicted of her interfering with the witness but failed to reach a verdict on a charge that she tried to have the witness murdered.

In challenging her conviction and sentence, Rodriguez argued, among other things, that the jury should not have been told she killed her daughter.  Rodriguez was not charged or convicted in connection with the death, but law enforcement reexamined it after the poisoning of her husband.

The court said the jury was entitled to hear about the child’s death during the penalty phase of deliberations.

“There was ample evidence that defendant murdered her daughter,” Chin wrote.

Karen Kelly, who is representing Rodriguez on appeal, said she would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision.

California supreme court /opinion : click to read, pdf file

Condemned South Bay killer gets off California’s death row – Miguel Bacigalupo

February 4, 2014 (timesheraldonline)

A condemned Santa Clara County killer has been sprung from death row after nearly three decades, spared the possibility of execution because prosecutorial misconduct was found to have marred his 1987 trial.

The District Attorney’s Office on Tuesday notified a judge that it will not retry the penalty phase of Miguel Bacigalupo’s murder case, satisfied he will spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole unless he can overturn his murder convictions in further appeals.

In an unusual ruling, the California Supreme Court in 2012 scrapped Bacigalupo’s death sentence, finding that the prosecution’s failure to turn over key evidence tainted his 1987 trial. The Supreme Court left intact Bacigalupo’s convictions for murdering two brothers in a San Jose jewelry store in 1983, but concluded the misconduct could have tarnished the jury’s decision to recommend the death penalty.

District Attorney Jeff Rosen could have retried the penalty phase, but opted for a life sentence instead of pursuing another trial so many years after the crime.

“I decided, in the interests of justice, not to retry the penalty phase because … it is unlikely that a jury would return a death verdict more than 30 years after these murders,” Rosen said in a statement.

The Supreme Court found that the lead prosecutor in the original case — Joyce Allego, who later became a judge and retired from the bench last year — and her lead investigator did not reveal crucial evidence to the defense that a Colombian drug cartel was heavily involved in the murders. The evidence was crucial to Bacigalupo’s trial defense.

Robert Bryan, Bacigalupo’s lawyer, said Tuesday he is pressing forward with an appeal in federal court to overturn the murder convictions based on the same misconduct.

“The system worked,” Bryan said of the DA’s decision to drop the death penalty. “But the system only worked after sputtering, kicking and growling.”

The lengthy legal battle stems from Bacigalupo’s conviction for killing Jose Luis Guerrero and Orestes Guerrero, owners of a jewelry store on The Alameda. At trial, Allegro argued that Bacigalupo shot the brothers in a basic jewelry heist, mocking his claim that the Colombian mafia ordered him the carry out the murders or risk the death of his family.

But evidence unearthed in the ensuing decades suggested that the prosecution team, particularly lead investigator Sandra Williams, had strong information from a confidential informant that supported Bacigalupo’s defense. And that material was never turned over to defense lawyers at trial.

Bacigalupo was unlikely to face execution soon. California has not had an execution in eight years as a result of legal battles over its lethal injection method, and none are expected at least in the next year on a death row with more than 740 inmates.

Howard Mintz covers legal affairs. Contact him at 408-286-0236 or follow him at

California death penalty: State abandons defense of three-drug executions

California has abandoned the legal defense of its delay-ridden lethal injection procedures, moving ahead to adopt a single-drug option that has been embraced by other states trying to enforce their death penalty laws.

The Brown administration has decided against appealing a May ruling that invalidated the state’s three-drug execution method, which has been mired in years of state and federal court legal tangles.

Faced with a Wednesday deadline, the state chose not to seek a California Supreme Court review of the decision striking down the three-drug procedure because state officials failed to follow administrative rules when adopting them several years ago.

A prison system spokeswoman said the governor and other state officials will proceed with working out a method of executing condemned inmates with a single fatal dose of a sedative, which other states — such as Ohio, Arizona and Washington — have adopted to short-circuit legal challenges to their lethal injection procedures. (Mercury News)

CALIFORNIA – California Supreme Court upholds 1999 death sentence

May 7, 2012 Source :

The California Supreme Court Monday, May 7, upheld a death penalty sentence for a Mead Valley man sentenced in 1999 for his conviction of first-degree murder during a sexual assault on an 81-year-old woman who was a neighbor and long-time family friend.

The state high court voted 7-0 to uphold the death penalty for William Alfred Jones Jr, now 55, who was convicted by jurors for the attack that left Ruth Vernice Eddings dead.

Her nude body was found June 19, 1996, on the living room floor of her mobile home along Cajalco Road. Jones had torched the building to cover up the murder, and arson investigators discovered the body.

Jones admitted to sheriff’s investigators he had been drinking heavily when he went to Eddings’ mobile home to sexually attack her.

At the time, Jones was a parolee and registered sex offender living with his parents and working as a carpenter. He had been released from prison about 1 1/2 years earlier and had befriended Eddings, who had been his parents’ neighbor for many years.

Jones’ criminal past included several attacks on women and children, starting at age 15 when he stabbed a teacher. In 1990, he raped a 16-year-old girl, went to prison and was paroled.

Among the appeal items rejected Monday by the state Supreme Court was that the trial judge erred during the penalty phase by allowing the victim impact statement of the teacher, who was attacked in 1972.