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George Elex Bridgeforth, Jr v. the Superior Court of Los Angeles County

March 25, 2013

GEORGE ELEX BRIDGEFORTH, JR., PETITIONER,
v.
THE SUPERIOR COURT OF LOS ANGELES COUNTY, RESPONDENT; THE PEOPLE, REAL PARTY IN INTEREST.



ORIGINAL PROCEEDINGS in mandate. John Joseph Cheroske, Judge. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. TA119012)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mallano, P. J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

Petition denied.

Petitioner George Bridgeforth is charged with four offenses, including attempted murder and murder, with a special circumstance allegation that the murder was committed while Bridgeforth was engaged in the commission of a robbery. The trial court denied Bridgeforth's non-statutory motion to dismiss the information, which was based upon the theory that the prosecutor's failure to disclose, prior to the preliminary hearing, photographs of the attempted murder victim's truck denied him the right to confront and cross-examine witnesses and the right to effective assistance of counsel. Bridgeforth sought a writ of mandate on the theory that the delay in disclosure violated due process. We conclude that the criminal discovery statutes did not bar Bridgeforth's motion, and due process requires the prosecution to disclose, prior to the preliminary hearing, evidence in its possession that is both favorable to the defense and material to the probable cause determination to be made at the preliminary hearing. Nevertheless, the photographs of the attempted murder victim's truck were not favorable to the defense. Accordingly, we deny Bridgeforth's petition for a writ of mandate.

BACKGROUND

In a complaint filed July 13, 2011, Bridgeforth was charged with murder, attempted murder, shooting at an occupied vehicle, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. The complaint alleged a gang enhancement, personal use of a firearm, and robbery-murder and gang-related-murder special circumstances. On July 27, 2011, Bridgeforth was arraigned and pleaded not guilty.

1. Preliminary hearing

Bridgeforth's preliminary hearing was conducted on February 22, 2012. At the outset, the prosecutor announced that she would not be pursuing the gang enhancement and gang-related-murder special circumstance. The court accordingly struck those allegations. The following evidence was adduced at the preliminary hearing.

About 10:00 p.m. on May13, 2011, Los Angeles police Officer Ruben Gonzalez responded to a call of shots fired at a Ralph's supermarket located at the northeast corner of 120th Street and South Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles. He found Walter Jerome Shepard lying on the ground next to an older model car in the parking lot. Shepard was not breathing. Bullet casings were found in two locations: near Shepard's car on its right side and toward a brick or block wall about 20 to 30 feet east of the car.

The parties stipulated that Shepard died of multiple gunshot wounds.

Ramon Valenzuela testified that around 10:00 p.m. on May 13, 2011, he was seated in the driver's seat of his truck in the Ralph's parking lot waiting for his wife, who was shopping inside of the store. His truck was parked facing Vermont. He saw a Black man come out of the store and go to a car that was parked two or three "stalls" to the right of and behind Valenzuela's car. Nothing blocked Valenzuela's view of the car. The man opened the driver's door of the car, then went to the back of the car and opened the trunk. He pulled something out of the trunk, then turned to the left and fired four shots. Valenzuela could not see what the man was shooting at. The cars that were near Valenzuela's truck rapidly left the parking lot. Valenzuela opened up his mobile phone, which lit up the interior of his truck. The gunman fired a shot toward Valenzuela, ran toward a wall, and fired again toward Valenzuela. Both shots struck Valenzuela's truck. The gunman jumped a wall separating the parking lot from some houses. The man remained behind the wall, looking at Valenzuela's truck. Then the police were "in the process of arriving." Valenzuela drove up to the door of Ralph's, his wife came out, and they drove home without speaking to the police. He estimated that he had been in the parking lot for about 15 minutes before the shooting, and his wife was in the store for 20 or 25 minutes. Valenzuela called the police the next day, after he noticed a bullet hole in the back window of his truck.

At the time of the charged offenses, Bridgeforth was on parole and wearing a GPS tracking device. An employee of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation testified that the data from the device Bridgeforth wore revealed that he was in the Ralph's parking lot from 8:47 to 8:53 p.m., 9:01 to 9:40 p.m., 9:50 to 9:52 p.m., and 10:01 to 10:06 p.m. At 10:07 p.m. Bridgeforth was on Ainsworth Street, which is the first street east of Ralph's. At 10:08 p.m. Bridgeforth was northbound on Vermont Avenue, and thereafter on the 105 Freeway.

Detective Lyman Doster testified that 12 nine-millimeter casings were recovered, with one group to the rear of a 1972 Chevrolet registered to Shepard and another group east of the car toward a block wall. Days later, an officer searched Shepard's car and in its trunk found four prescription bottles of cough syrup containing codeine, known on the street as "juice."

On July 11, 2011, Doster interviewed Bridgeforth after advising him of his rights pursuant to Miranda v. Arizona (1966) 384 U.S. 436, 444 [86 S.Ct. 1602], and obtaining proper waivers. Bridgeforth eventually told Doster he was present at the shooting, meeting with Shepard to purchase "juice." Shots rang out, Bridgeforth grabbed the "juice" and fled, going over the block wall. Bridgeforth then admitted he was carrying a nine-millimeter gun in case he needed it for protection or the deal went wrong. Shepard was reaching in his pockets and acting very nervously. Bridgeforth said at that point he decided to shoot Shepard. Bridgeforth said he had not paid Shepard, but he took the "juice," fled, and got into a car driven by his sister. Bridgeforth said he saw a car driving toward him and thought it might be a friend of Shepard's, so he fired a couple of rounds at that car before jumping the wall. Bridgeforth explained he had asked his sister to drive him to the parking lot to make the deal. He told her to pick him up on Ainsworth if she heard shots. Bridgeforth also told Doster that Shepard had shortchanged him in prior "juice" purchases.

The magistrate held Bridgeforth to answer on all four counts, the robbery-murder special circumstance, and allegations of personal firearm use under Penal Code section "12022.53, subsection (b) [sic]" and subdivision (c). ...


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