Thursday, August 14, 2008

People v. Muniga and People v. Wallace (Cal. Supreme Ct. - Aug. 14, 2008)

Two death penalty opinions from the California Supreme Court this morning. With striking similarities.

Both involve a first-degree murder committed during a residential burglary. Both involve elderly women killed in their homes -- the first, Hazel Hamilton, was a 83-year old widow, and the second, Alma Franklin, was 73. Both murders were committed long ago -- Hamilton was killed in 1991, and Franklin was killed in 1994 -- and are only now (17 and 14 years, respectively, after the murders) adjudicated by the California Supreme Court. Both murders involved the fairly horrific beatings of the victims.

And the convictions and death sentences of both defendants -- Keone Wallace and John Mungia -- are unanimously affirmed by the California Supreme Court.

I think you get a sense of the Court's reaction to both cases from the following line of the opinion by Justice Kennard -- who's hardly a pro-death penalty fanatic -- in Wallace: "In the course of a residential burglary, defendant beat to death a frail, elderly woman who was particularly vulnerable because of her age and her poor physical condition. He also attempted to rob and sexually assault her. On these facts, the death sentence is not grossly disproportionate to defendant’s culpability."

Facts matter.