Thursday, July 26, 2007

People v. Barnwell (Cal. Supreme Ct. - July 26, 2007)

Opinions by the California Supreme Court in death penalty cases are typically lengthy, plodding affairs. In part due to the nature of the offense as well as the consequences of the result.

But this one is different. It tops out at only 25 double-spaced pages, which is less than a third of many other death penalty opinions by the Court. And it's tight and punchy. Which is fairly rare.

But, then again, this is a pretty rare case. Not because of the result: as usual, the California Supreme Court unanimously affirms the death sentence. But rather due to the nature of the evidence against the defendant. Here's a taste:

"Defendant’s case is somewhat remarkable in that a policeman saw him shoot two of the murder victims. One night in 1992 Los Angeles Police Officers Brad Wise and Greg Smiley were on patrol. As they drove toward a tire shop, Officer Wise heard a shot. A woman screamed and another shot was fired. Wise ran up to a high fence surrounding the shop yard and looked through a hole in the gate. He saw defendant, some 20-25 feet away, standing above two men lying facedown on the ground. Defendant held a large-caliber, semiautomatic, blue steel pistol in his hand. The men were begging for their lives. Defendant bent down and put the pistol to the back of one man’s head. Officer Wise heard two shots. Defendant then fired two more shots into the back of the other man’s head.

Defendant ran but the officers intercepted him as he emerged from another gate, still holding the pistol. Officer Wise told defendant to drop the gun. Defendant protested, 'It wasn’t me.' He ran back toward the gate, but then stopped and turned toward the officers. Wise thought defendant was going to shoot them, so he fired four shots at defendant. Defendant ran back into the yard, where he was found by other officers. He had been shot three times. . . .

In addition to the two men Officer Wise had seen defendant shoot, the bodies of a woman and another man were also found. All four victims had been shot in the head."

Pretty unambiguous evidence of guilt, huh? And with the multiple murders -- and the victims begging for their lives right before their execution-style killings -- there's also not much doubt as to what the penalty is going to be.

Oh, one more thing. At the penalty phase, "the prosecution introduced evidence that in the four years preceding this trial defendant had committed two murders, an assault and robbery, and another assault."

Icing on the cake. Death penalty imposed. Death penalty affirmed.