Tuesday, December 04, 2018

People v. Burton (Cal. Ct. App. - Dec. 4, 2018)

Some cases are very hard to win at trial.  Some cases are easy.

This is not one of the former.  At least for the prosecution.

It involves the brutal and inexplicable murder of an elderly couple.  So already there's a huge sympathy factor.  Moreover, the evidence against the defendant was overwhelming.  Usually the defendant doesn't testify in her own defense.  This time she did.  But it didn't help at all.

Here's the prosecution's closing argument:  "The People argued defendant at first only intended to get pills and money, but when Melvin refused to cooperate, she made a deliberate decision to kill him. A “blink of an eye” or “fraction of a second” was enough time; “A cold, calculated choice can be arrived at quickly. And that’s exactly what happened in this case.” Defendant was a liar. She first told Detective Meux she was not there (refuted by her DNA), then claimed self-defense (belied by the severity of the injuries, including defensive wounds), then claimed the Bains killed each other (which made no sense). It made no sense that defendant had to hit Jean (a smaller and much older woman) multiple times with a flashlight to stop an attack, or that after being hit repeatedly by a flashlight Jean would continue the attack. It made no sense to claim that Melvin could have killed his wife when he was found beaten to death as well. Defendant claimed Melvin had been her good friend, but she displayed no remorse. Defendant had a prior conviction evidencing moral turpitude. The prosecutor referenced defendant’s admission to lying and the instruction allowing the jury to “consider that” in determining guilt and then listed many of the lies defendant testified she had told Meux."

The jury took a grand total of 80 minutes before it returned its guilty verdict.  Defendant's sentenced to LWOP.

When the evidence is so overwhelming, don't be surprised when the Court of Appeal doesn't reverse the conviction.  There was an evidentiary error here.  But the Court of Appeal concludes that there's no prejudice therefrom given the state of the overall evidence.

Sometimes an attorney should be congratulated for winning at trial.  But sometimes all you need to do is to not screw up and you'll pretty much definitely win.