Thursday, October 18, 2012

People v. Mills (Cal. Supreme Ct. - Oct. 18, 2012)

Would you find the following defendant to be sane?  Would you agree with the defense that he was only guilty of manslaughter -- not murder -- because he acted with a subjective (but unreasonable) belief that he was threatened and hence acting in self-defense?

Here are the (sad) facts:

Shortly before 5:00 on the afternoon of April 21, 2005, Jason JacksonAndrade entered the Amtrak station in Emeryville.  Eyewitness testimony established the ensuing events.  As Jackson-Andrade sat on a bench on the platform, defendant approached him and launched a tirade of insults.  He told Jackson-Andrade, 'You ain‟t getting on that train.'  Jackson-Andrade went into the station, sat down, and asked a woman if she knew the man outside.  She said she did not.  Jackson-Andrade told her he had not done anything, but the man was 'cussing' at him and acting as though he wanted to kill him.

Defendant walked around on the platform for several minutes, bouncing on his toes, humming, and talking to himself.  He then began walking toward the station in a determined manner, saying, 'You got a gun, nigger?  You got a gun?  You got a gun?'  He entered the station, approached Jackson-Andrade, and twice said, 'Motherfucker, you want to kill me?'  He also asked, 'You got a gun?'  As Jackson-Andrade looked up at him, defendant said, 'Well, if you ain‟t got no motherfucking gun, I do,' and produced a revolver from his pocket.  Defendant shot Jackson-Andrade, who held up his hands and said, 'Please, don't shoot me again, don't shoot.'  Jackson-Andrade fell from his seat and began crawling away. 

Defendant shot him five more times in the back and once in the back of the thigh. When the police arrived, defendant lay on the ground, sliding his gun forward and assuming a prone position.  He told them he was the only shooter.  Jackson-Andrade died at the scene.

Defendant testified in his own defense.  He claimed that because of death threats from various individuals, he and his wife had left their home in Merced to live with his cousin Telitha in Rodeo.  He had been visiting another cousin in Sacramento in the days before the murder.  As he walked around Sacramento, he began to suspect that he was being followed.  On the morning of the murder, he stole a car at gunpoint and drove from Sacramento to Rodeo.  He had Telitha take him to the Amtrak station because he did not want the people following him to find her or his wife.  As he approached the station, he heard someone say, 'You're going to feel it today,' which he took to mean that he was going to be shot.

On the platform, defendant became suspicious of two men, one of whom looked at him and said into his cell phone, 'He looks scared.'  Defendant claimed that after these men left, Jackson-Andrade beckoned to him.  As defendant approached, Jackson-Andrade became angry and threatened to kill  him.  JacksonAndrade then got up and went into the station, pausing at the door to make a hand
gesture indicating that he had a gun.  Defendant was nervous, and had to go to the bathroom, so he entered the station.  When he saw Jackson-Andrade sitting inside talking to a lady, defendant 'jumped' and the contents of his backpack spilled onto the floor.  Jackson-Andrade got up and put his hand into his pocket.  Defendant thought he was reaching for a gun, so he shot him.

Andrade lay on the ground, defendant again thought he was reaching for a weapon, so defendant shot him again.  Defendant testified that he shot only twice, but on cross-examination admitted he had reloaded his gun and continued firing. Defendant‟s wife and cousin testified that he told them people were after him.  His wife said he thought radio commercials were speaking to him, that the FBI was in a FedEx truck, and that cars were following him."

I have no doubt that Mills was delusional.  Maybe also a trial, since his story doesn't make sense.  But there was utterly no reason to kill the victim.  Whether those delusions negated the required mental state for murder is another question.

The California Supreme Court holds that the trial court erred in instructing the jury at defendant's trial that he was conclusively presumed to be sane, but holds that this error was harmless.