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Arthur Lee Walton v. the State of California

December 8, 2011



Petitioner is a state prisoner proceeding in propria persona with an application for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner challenges a 2006 judgment of conviction entered against him in Solano County Superior Court on one count of second degree robbery, with enhancements for personally inflicting great bodily injury and for serving two prior prison terms. He seeks relief on the grounds that: (1) the trial court violated his right to due process in denying his motion to sever his trial from that of his co-defendant; and (2) jury instruction error violated his right to due process. Upon careful consideration of the record and the applicable law, the court finds that petitioner's application for habeas corpus relief must be denied.

I. Background*fn1

These consolidated appeals concern two robberies that occurred in the city of Vallejo, on the night of April 29, 2006. Carlos Trinidad was accosted by a woman, who was soon joined by several other people. Trinidad was knocked unconscious, and had his wallet and cell phone taken. A short while later, a few blocks away, Peter Bedolla was accosted by a woman, who was then joined by several others. Bedolla was hit in the head and robbed. Neither victim was able to identify his attackers, but a few hours after the attack on Trinidad, Darryl Lavon Mitchell (Mitchell) tried to sell Trinidad's cell phone to the victim's stepdaughter. The next day an accomplice gave a statement to the police, and ultimately testified against Mitchell and his co-defendant Arthur Lee Walton (Walton) at their joint trial.

Mitchell was charged and convicted of the robbery of Trinidad and Bedolla, but the jury found not true an enhancement allegation pursuant to Penal Code section 12022.7, subdivision (b)*fn2 with respect to the Bedolla robbery. The jury also found Walton guilty of the Bedolla robbery,*fn3 and found true the allegation that he personally inflicted great bodily injury.

On appeal, Mitchell contends that his convictions must be reversed because they are based upon uncorroborated accomplice testimony that also was so contradictory and unreliable that it was insufficient to support the jury findings of guilt. He further contends that he was prejudiced by the trial court's failure, sua sponte, to sever the two counts of robbery, and that his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to move for severance.

Walton contends the court abused its discretion by denying his motion to sever his trial from Mitchell's, and committed prejudicial error by failing to give a limiting instruction with respect to the evidence that Mitchell possessed the cell phone taken in the Trinidad robbery, and failing to modify another standard instruction on the inferences that may be drawn from possession of stolen property to specify that it applied only to Mitchell.

We shall affirm the judgment as to both defendants.


Trinidad Robbery

Carlos Trinidad testified that on April 29, 2006, at approximately 8:30 or 9:00 p.m., he was walking home from work in Vallejo. He was carrying his cell phone, $120 in cash, and a check for $950. In the vicinity of Alameda and Florida Streets, a skinny African American woman approached him, but Trinidad kept walking. Trinidad began to run when the woman kept following and yelling. She reached out and grabbed him by his shirt. Then several African American men converged upon him, threw him down and hit him in the head.*fn5 They ripped his pants near his pocket, and took his wallet, his paycheck and his cell phone. He lost consciousness as a result of the attack, but somehow managed to walk home, and was taken to the hospital. Trinidad told the police he could not identify the people who robbed and beat him.

Trinidad's stepdaughter, Berenice Gaaolegos, testified that she went to the hospital to see her stepfather at about 10:00 p.m. She called Trinidad's cell phone and a man with a Puerto Rican accent answered. She asked him how he got the cell phone, and he said he found it in the street. She pretended that the phone belonged to her, and agreed to pay him a $20 reward if he returned the phone. She then contacted the police, and met with Detective Pucci. While she was at the police station a different person, named Darryl, called her several times, said he wanted $10 for the phone, and wanted to meet in five minutes. Gaaolegos agreed to meet Darryl, and the police followed her to the agreed meeting place. When she arrived at the meeting place in front of a tire store, at approximately 1:30 a.m., Mitchell came over to her with the cell phone. He was arrested by the police after Gaaolegos confirmed that the cell phone belonged to her stepfather.*fn6

Bedolla Robbery

At about 11:13 that same evening, three Vallejo police officers were dispatched in response to a call about a "man down." They found Peter Bedolla lying on the street in the 1300 block of Sutter Street, near an alley. Bedolla had suffered head injuries, was unable to speak, and was transported to the hospital. On Kentucky Street, east of the intersection of Sutter and Kentucky, the police found Bedolla's wallet and some of its contents. His cell phone was never recovered.

The police canvassed the area, but were unable to find any witnesses. Bedolla's ex-wife, Cheryl Bedolla, with whom he still resided, testified that she last saw Bedolla at about 9:45 or 10:00 o'clock that evening. The police came to her house at about 3:30 a.m. and told her that Bedolla had been taken to the hospital. They gave her his keys, and she identified the wallet as belonging to Bedolla. As of the time of trial, Bedolla was still hospitalized. He suffered brain damage and was unable to communicate.

The parties stipulated that Bedolla suffered great bodily injury within the meaning of section 12022.7, subdivision (b).

Accomplice Testimony of Tiffany Gipson

The day after the robberies, the Vallejo police arrested Tiffany Gipson on unrelated drug charges. Gipson gave a statement to Detective Pucci while she was under the influence of drugs.*fn7

Gipson testified that she made the statement because the police told her they could make the "dope" disappear, and she wanted to go home. She gave the police the least amount of information she thought was necessary to get released.

Based upon her statement, Gipson was charged with both robberies as a co-defendant of Walton and Mitchell. Pursuant to a negotiated plea, she pleaded guilty to the Trinidad robbery. The prosecutor dismissed the second robbery count, and she was promised probation in exchange for her truthful testimony.

Gipson testified that she had known Walton, whose nickname was "Moosie," and Mitchell for a few years. Gipson used crack cocaine with Walton, Mitchell, Belinda Gaitlin, also known as "Joy," and Marcy Thompson, whom Gipson called "Diamond." The five of them were using crack cocaine together on the evening of April 29, 2006. At around 9:00 or 10:00 p.m., Gipson was driving with Diamond in a gray BMW when they saw an Hispanic man walking down Lozier Alley off of Alameda Street. Diamond got out of the car, approached the man, and hit him in the face. Mitchell and Walton came out of a nearby apartment, and assisted Diamond while Gipson remained in the car as a lookout. Joy was also in the alley. Mitchell and Walton patted the man's pockets, but did not hit him. Mitchell and Walton ran back into the apartment building, and Diamond came back to the car. Gipson believed that Diamond got all the cash, but she gave Gipson drugs. Gipson testified that all they took was cash. She did not see a cell phone taken in this robbery.

Gipson and Diamond continued to drive around and use drugs, and a short while later they picked up Mitchell, and then Walton. Joy was also in the car, sitting between Mitchell and Walton. While they smoked crack they developed a plan to have Joy entice a man to an apartment off Sutter Street so they could rob him. Sometime between 10:00 p.m. and midnight, while Diamond, Gipson, Mitchell and Walton were driving around, they saw Joy with an Hispanic man at Carolina and Sutter Streets.*fn8 Joy did not succeed in getting the man to the apartment, so they drove past her, and Diamond, Walton and Mitchell got out of the car. Gipson remained in the car as a lookout. Diamond took the first swing at the man. After the man fell to the ground, Walton stomped on the man's head numerous times. Mitchell took the man's cell phone, but Gipson did not see him touch the victim. The attack lasted less than 10 minutes. The man was not moving when Diamond, Joy, Mitchell, and Walton returned to the car. Joy took the money out of the man's wallet, and Walton threw the wallet out of the car near a baseball park off of Sutter Street. Joy kept $40, and Diamond, Walton, and Mitchell split the rest. Gipson was given more drugs for being the lookout.

Gipson testified that in her police interview she did not initially mention Walton as one of the robbery participants because he was her friend. Instead, she referred to a "young dude" who did not exist. She did not mention Walton until Detective Pucci brought him up. She also acknowledged that being under the influence of drugs made it difficult for her to remember things clearly.

Tamika Darnes

Tamika Darnes had been dating Walton for several months before April 29, 2006. On April 17, 2006, she was stabbed by a person she described only as a "Mexican." She and Walton had a rocky relationship, and around the time the robberies occurred, Darnes was facing a misdemeanor battery charge involving Walton.

Darnes first met Detective Pucci while he was investigating the stabbing incident. Then, on May 2, when Detective Pucci asked if she knew anything about why the police were looking for Walton, she told him she had only heard on the street that he was hiding from the police. On May 9, Darnes told Detective Pucci that, in a telephone call, Walton had told her he had been in a car on Sutter Street, and had jumped out of the car when he saw Joy in an altercation with a Mexican. Walton said he hit the man and the man passed out. When Darnes brought the incident up again later, Walton denied it. Darnes believed Diamond was also involved, and she suspected Diamond had a relationship with Walton beyond the brother-sister type of relationship he claimed to have with Diamond.

At Detective Pucci's request, Darnes made a recorded call to Walton. During the call, Darnes asked if Walton remembered telling her about how he "hit that Mexican on the street," and whether he knew the man was in the hospital. Walton denied that he told her he hit anybody. He said he knew about it, but that he was not there, and other people did it. The rest of the call concerned an argument over Darnes's ...

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