Friday, December 02, 2011

People v. Rivera (Cal. Ct. App. - Nov. 30, 2011)

Defendant admits he killed the victim, but in his first-degree murder trial, denies premeditation, and instead claims that he was in a rage.  There's no dispute about the killing.  But the prosecutor nonetheless asks the defendant at trial to reenact the murder for the jury by using the prosecutor as the victim -- essentially, to strangle the prosecutor like defendant admits he stranged the victim, Ted Neff.

The trial court says, no, we're not going to have the defendant pretend to strangle the prosecutor in front of the jury.  That's just silly (and prejudicial).  Go get a mannequin.  So the prosecutor does that.  And returns with a female mannequin wearing a blue dress, pink ribbon, and hat.  (The victim was an adult male.)  The defense objects to the "theatrics" of a simulated killing in front of the jury, especially since the killing is not disputed and the only issue at trial is whether defendant was in a rage or did it in cold blood.  To which the trial court responds by telling the prosecutor to take the dress and hat off the mannequin.

So the defendant is then compelled to strangle a naked female mannequin at his first-degree murder trial while the jury watches, according to the direction of the prosecutor, who tells him how to turn the dummy, where to put his hands, how to strangle her, etc.

The Court of Appeal doesn't exactly approve of this decision.  Here's what Justice Dondero (and the rest of the panel) has to say about it:

The minimal probative value of the evidence was diminished further by the absence of similarity of both the setting and circumstances of the demonstration. A courtroom is hardly the appropriate venue to attempt to recreate and prove the manner of commission of a murder by strangulation. The setting was entirely dissimilar, lacking in the dimensions, configuration and the furniture that was present in the victim‟s home. Further, the use of a small, disrobed, wigless, lifeless female mannequin rendered the exhibition almost derisory, with the spectacle of defendant throttling a nonsentient, plastic entity that bore little physical likeness to the large male victim, all as orchestrated by the prosecutor. The acts of the victim were not reproduced. The emotion associated with the strangling, which was an integral part of the defense, was entirely missing from the demonstration. But for the seriousness of the charge, the courtroom events were suggestive of a slapstick parody.

The Court of Appeal ultimately holds the error harmless, which seems right.  But that's no excuse for throttling an innocent dummy at trial.

One more thing.  The victim met the defendant through a Craigslist advertisement for sex, and defendant said in his ads that he'd meet people at their hotel room and provide a "session" for them for $140 (which is how the police picked him up).  Oh, and a few hours after defendant killed the victim, he was back online soliciting a female customer to join him and his wife in a threesome.

In short:  Find sex in places other than Craigslist.