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CA Death Row Inmate's Conviction Overturned 16 Years After Double Murder Case

Citing juror misconduct, California's high court has overturned a 2002 double murder conviction and death sentence related to the Indio crime.

The California Supreme Court Monday unanimously overturned the conviction and death sentence of a man found guilty of killing two people and trying to kill a third person in a robbery in Indio nearly 16 years ago, citing juror misconduct.

Fred Lewis Weatherton was convicted of two counts of murder, with special circumstance allegations, in the Nov. 1, 1998, deaths of Latonya Roberson and Samuel Ortiz at Ortiz's house.

He was also convicted of the attempted murder of Nelva Bell, who had Roberson's year-old son with her at the time of the shooting, as well as robbery.

Weatherton, now 65 and on death row at San Quentin State Prison, was convicted in February 2002, and the jury recommended the following month that he be sentenced to death.

The state's high court reversed the judgments, finding that "juror misconduct during the guilt phase raises a substantial likelihood of actual bias," according to the opinion written by Justice Carol Corrigan.

It is rare for the court to overturn death penalty verdicts, especially by a unanimous vote, according to legal observers.

According to the court's opinion, a juror referred to as "P.P." told fellow panelists that he thought Weatherton was guilty before the trial was over, and talked about the case outside of deliberations, both of which are forbidden.

"He discussed the case during his daily commute, at lunch, during cigarette breaks, in court hallways, and in elevators ... Multiple jurors testified that, long before the prosecution rested its case, P.P. conveyed a belief in defendant's guilt. He also told jurors, both before and during deliberations, that defendant deserved the death penalty," the court's opinion states.

The trial court found that the juror committed misconduct, but that it did "not rise to the level that there is a substantial likelihood" of bias, and denied Weatherton's request for a new trial, according to the opinion.

On Halloween 1998, Weatherton, who was known as "Boo-Boo," was using crack at an Indio home along with Bell, Ortiz, Roberson and two other people. Weatherton "had no money, but was intent on obtaining more drugs," according to the court's opinion.

Later that night, Bell, Roberson and her young son went to Ortiz's house to spend the night, and Weatherton got more crack on credit from a drug dealer. Early the next morning, Weatherton, carrying a gun, kicked Ortiz's door open and demanded money, according to the opinion.

"Roberson swore she had none. Defendant replied, '(Expletive) I ain't playing with you,' and shot her in the forehead. Ortiz said, 'Boo-Boo, you can have my money,' saying his wallet was under the bed. Defendant retrieved the cash, then shot Ortiz in the head. Roberson was moaning; defendant shot her in the throat," the opinion states.

Bell, who was holding Roberson's son, pleaded with Weatherton not to shoot her and put the child down at Weatherton's direction. He then shot Bell in the back and face, and she played dead, according to the narrative detailed in the opinion.

Bell told another man and a police officer that "Boo-Boo" had shot them and did so "to rob us." Shoe prints that resembled the shoes Weatherton was wearing were tracked from the home where the shootings occurred to an area near Ortiz's home.

Bell later identified Weatherton as the shooter from a photographic lineup and "testified she remained '100 percent sure' defendant had shot her and the others," according to the court's opinion.


— City News Service. 

 


 

Sherry July 09, 2014 at 01:35 PM
I can't believe what I'm reading.......
Ken Briggs July 10, 2014 at 01:57 AM
so if he was freed, where is he at now ? did they just put him in another prison ? if freed , he get a ton of money from the state
budd smith July 15, 2014 at 02:46 PM
It is not that confusing everybody: The article said, "The trial court found that the juror committed misconduct, but that it did "not rise to the level that there is a substantial likelihood" of bias, and denied Weatherton's request for a new trial" - ok, so this would have been a long time ago, long before the appeal was put through, it would seem that his lawyers made a likely standard motion to have a mistrial declared right there at the court in which it happened. The trial court denied that request, and it is that denial that were the grounds for his subsequent appeal. I found it interesting that the Court of Appeals was not mentioned as I would have thought that the Court of Appeals would be the first level at which to appeal, but I suppose that it could be likely that death penalty cases are (or can be) appealed directly to the State's Highest Court, the California Supreme Court... either that is the procedure or perhaps the author of the story felt it was not important to mention the Court of Appeals as they obviously took no action on the matter if the case did go before them. At any rate, the case finally did get to the California High Court (the Supreme Court of California). At that stage the Ca High Court decided that "juror misconduct during the guilt phase raises a substantial likelihood of actual bias" ***** This is the point at which this story as written here falls apart, because if the misconduct occurred at the guilt phase only then it would stand to reason that the conviction(s) would be good, and that perhaps just the guilt phase would need to be re-done. However the conviction(s) were also found not to be good, and the conviction(s) as well as the sentence have all been overturned. Ok, I have done a little bit of research for everyone who is interested and I believe I have found the missing parts of this story. I am quoting the L.A. Times here: "Corrigan, one of the more conservative justices, cited evidence that a juror identified only as "P.P." decided Weatherton should get the death penalty before the trial was even over and discussed his views outside deliberations." - note this is before the penalty phase. “P.P.’s transformation from impartial fact finder to combative advocate before deliberations began is separate and serious misconduct,” Corrigan wrote. - again before the penalty phase continued
budd smith July 15, 2014 at 03:19 PM
Part II Death Penalty conviction and sentence overturned. The L.A. Times Article went on to say, The trial judge found that P.P. had committed serious misconduct but decided his actions did not show that bias infected the trial. Corrigan said "a finding of misconduct creates an assumption of bias, and prosecutors had failed to rebut that presumption." - Note: that is the most important part of the story right there, and it is missing from the article above. “It is undisputed that P.P. repeatedly talked about the case outside deliberations,” Corrigan wrote. “He did so in direct defiance of the trial court's repeated admonitions. “He discussed the case during his daily commute, at lunch, during cigarette breaks, in court hallways, and in elevators.” Michael R. Snedeker, who represented Weatherton on appeal, said the evidence of juror misconduct was so egregious that the court had little choice but to overturn the verdict. “This court is a conservative court court and single incidents of misconduct are not likely to make much difference,” Snedeker said. “But there was a sustained effort by this guy to get the verdict he wanted and to lobby for it." He said Weatherton must be given a new trial, negotiate a plea deal or be released. Folks you can bitch all you want about the High Court's actions, but just be goddamned glad that you live in a country where this kind of thing can happen. The blame here is with the trial court judge back in 2002... he should have granted a new trial then, or he should have removed the juror as soon as it became apparent that he was breaking the rules. Just imagine if you were convicted of something like this and you were innocent and there was jury misconduct. Wouldn't you want a new trial? Now I am not saying the defendant is innocent... I don't know what kind of defense he raised if any, or what his side of this story was. It would seem that he is still in deep doo doo no mater how you look at things. He is still facing 2 counts of murder and a count of attempted murder. I'm sure he is being held without bail. A plea bargain would seem rather pointless since he is 65 years old. However if they offered him 15 more years he would just about have to take that, and he will probably die in prison. If he gets out at the age of 80 I doubt he will kill again, though smoking crack may be appealing to him. I suspect they will re-try the case without the death penalty as an option and he will be fu@ked just the same as he will be like 120 before he is eligible for parole. If anything this case exemplifies why all drugs should be legal... if they were he could have got his crack over at Savon for .50 cents a hit and he would not have felt the need to bother the victims for money.
Ken Briggs July 15, 2014 at 06:51 PM
so why does the state of California have a death row for ? they have some 730 plus just waiting and some been waiting for over 20 years so what goes ? it cost the state more money to house these people . but about 30 of these are women at one of the two Chowchilla womens presons . they get better care in preson than out of prison , better to just give them life and be done with it .

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