[As modified on June 18, 2014]
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Francisco P. Briseno, Referee.
Karen Kelly, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for Petitioner Steve Allen Champion.
Bill Lockyer, Edmund G. Brown, Jr., and Kamala D. Harris, Attorneys General, Robert R. Anderson and Dane R. Gillette, Chief Assistant Attorneys General, Pamela C. Hamanaka, Assistant Attorney General, Sharlene A. Honnaka, Robert S. Henry and Steven E. Mercer, Deputy Attorneys General, for Respondent Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation.
[170 Cal.Rptr.3d 216] KENNARD, J.[*]
Petitioner Steve Allen Champion seeks relief on habeas corpus from the judgment of death entered against him in 1982 in Los
Angeles Superior Court, case No. A365075. On direct appeal, we affirmed that judgment and a judgment of death against his codefendant, Craig Anthony Ross. ( People v. Champion (1995) 9 Cal.4th 879 [39 Cal.Rptr.2d 547, 891 P.2d 93] ( Champion ).) In 2002, we issued an order to show cause based on petitioner's allegation, in a petition for writ of habeas corpus, that his trial attorney (Ronald Skyers, now a Los Angeles Superior Court Judge) ineffectively represented him at the penalty phase of trial. We appointed the Hon. Francisco P. Briseño, Judge of the Orange County Superior Court, as referee, and directed him to take evidence and make findings of fact. Judge Briseño has done so. Based on his findings, we deny relief.
I. Trial Evidence
Below is a summary of the evidence at petitioner's capital trial.
Elizabeth Moncrief, a nurse caring for a neighbor, saw four men forcibly enter the home of Bobby and Mercie Hassan on December 12, 1980. Later that day, police found the bodies of Bobby Hassan (an unemployed carpenter who sold marijuana) and his 14-year-old son Eric (described by his stepmother, Mercie, as " handicapped" ) on a waterbed in the home. Bobby's hands were tied behind his back; each victim had been shot once in the head. Items were missing from the house. At trial, Moncrief identified petitioner and codefendant Craig Anthony Ross as two of the men she had seen entering the Hassan home. On cross-examination, Moncrief admitted that she had previously identified two other men, neither of whom had any connection to petitioner, as two of the intruders. ( Champion, supra, 9 Cal.4th at pp. 898-899.)
When arrested a month after the two murders, petitioner was wearing a ring and a necklace bearing a charm with the king of hearts. Bobby Hassan's wife, Mercie, testified that the ring and the necklace had belonged to her husband. ( Champion, supra, 9 Cal.4th at p. 899.) The prosecution introduced a tape recording of a conversation between petitioner and codefendant Ross in the bus transporting them between the court and the jail after their arrest for the murders. On the bus, the two men spoke briefly of a waterbed; at trial, the prosecution argued that they were referring to the waterbed on which the two Hassans were killed. ( Champion, supra, 9 Cal.4th at pp. 909-910.)
Both Hassans were shot in the back of the head with a .357-caliber bullet with rifling characteristics typical of Colt revolvers. Photographs found in petitioner's home showed petitioner and codefendant Ross each holding a Colt revolver that was either .38- or .357-caliber. Ross's fingerprints were found on Christmas wrapping paper and a white cardboard box at the Hassan home. ( Champion, supra,
9 Cal.4th at pp. 899-900.)
The prosecution also introduced evidence of crimes committed at the home of Cora, Mary, and Michael Taylor, who lived eight blocks from the Hassans. On December 27, 1980, two weeks after the murder of the two Hassans, three Black men invaded the Taylor house looking for drugs, and a fourth man (apparently a [170 Cal.Rptr.3d 217] lookout) came to the door but did not enter. The men fatally shot Michael (who, like Bobby Hassan, was a marijuana dealer) and one of the men raped Mary. Codefendant Ross's fingerprints were found at the scene. ( Champion, supra, 9 Cal.4th at pp. 900-901.)
Later that same night, a Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputy tried to stop a speeding brown Buick automobile. When the car struck a curb and came to a halt near petitioner's house, the car's occupants (four Black males) ran away, but a sheriff's deputy found Jerome Evan Mallet (Evan Mallet or Mallet) hiding in the backyard of petitioner's home. In the car, the deputy found a tape player and a photograph album stolen from the Taylors and a .357-caliber revolver stolen from the Hassan home. According to a ballistics expert, the bullet that killed Michael Taylor could have been fired by the revolver, which contained two live rounds and an empty shell casing and smelled as if it had recently been fired. ( Champion, supra, 9 Cal.4th at pp. 900-901.)
At trial, Cora and Mary Taylor identified codefendant Ross and Evan Mallet as two of the men who had invaded their home and murdered Michael Taylor, and Mary identified Ross as the one who had raped her. Cora also identified petitioner as one of the perpetrators. Because the Taylors had not previously identified petitioner, he had not been charged with the offenses committed at the Taylor home. ( Champion, supra, 9 Cal.4th at pp. 900-901.)
The prosecution also introduced evidence that a month before the two Hassans were murdered, the body of Teheran Jefferson, a third marijuana dealer who lived on the same block as the Hassans, was found in his home. The upper torso of Jefferson's body was on his bed, while his legs and feet were on the floor. Like Bobby Hassan, his hands were tied behind his back, and (like the Hassans) he had been shot once in the head with a bullet of .38- or .357-caliber. The prosecution produced no evidence (apart from the similarities of the crimes) linking either petitioner or codefendant Ross to Jefferson's death. ( Champion, supra, 9 Cal.4th at p. 917.)
The prosecutor argued to the jury that all of the murders described above were committed by the Raymond Avenue Crips, a criminal street gang operating in the Los Angeles neighborhood where the murders occurred, as part of a plan to kill and rob drug dealers operating on their turf. The prosecution introduced evidence that petitioner, codefendant Ross, and Mallet were members of that gang, and that the brown Buick car tied to the Hassan
and Taylor killings was owned by the stepfather of gang members Marcus and Michael Player. ( Champion, supra, 9 Cal.4th at pp. 919-921.)
Petitioner presented an alibi defense, testifying that on the morning that Bobby and Eric Hassan were murdered, he and his brothers, Reginald and Louis, picked up his paycheck from Prompt Service, a " temporary personnel" agency that had employed him. He then went home, where he spent the afternoon. His brother Reginald and his mother, Azell, corroborated his account. ( Champion, supra, 9 Cal.4th at p. 902.)
The jury convicted both petitioner and codefendant Ross of burglarizing the Hassan home and of robbing and murdering Bobby and Eric Hassan. As to each defendant, the jury found true special circumstance allegations of multiple murder, burglary murder, and robbery murder. The jury also convicted codefendant Ross of numerous felonies, including murder, committed at the Taylor home. In a separate [170 Cal.Rptr.3d 218] trial held before that of petitioner and codefendant Ross, Evan Mallet was convicted of murder and other felonies at the Taylor home.
At the penalty phase, the prosecution presented evidence that in November 1977, petitioner and seven other youths robbed Vincent Verkuilen, Jerry Stanger, and Laura Surgot at gunpoint at a Greyhound Bus depot in West Covina. The prosecution also presented evidence that in September 1978, petitioner and four other youths approached Jose Bustos and his wife in a park and took their radio. When Bustos tried to retrieve it, petitioner kicked him, hit him on the head with a knife, and cut his finger with a switchblade. Petitioner was a minor when he committed these two offenses. As a result of the second offense he was committed to what was then called the California Youth Authority (CYA), now the Division of Juvenile Facilities of California's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, from which he was released on parole less than two months before committing the murders in this case. Petitioner was 18 years old at the time of those murders.
Petitioner's trial attorney, Ronald Skyers, called two penalty phase witnesses: Azell Champion (petitioner's mother) and Thomas Crawford (his CYA parole officer). Petitioner's mother testified that on the day petitioner was arrested for the two murders in this case, he was to start work at Gompers Junior High School in Los Angeles. Parole Officer Crawford said petitioner was cooperative and maintained satisfactory contact during the three months that he was on parole. ( Champion, supra, 9 Cal.4th at p. 904.)
II. Order of Reference
We asked the referee to take evidence and make
findings of facts on these questions:
" 1. What actions did petitioner's trial counsel take to investigate potential evidence that could have been presented in mitigation at the penalty phase of petitioner's capital trial? What were the results of that investigation?
" 2. What additional mitigating evidence, if any, could petitioner have presented at the penalty phase? How credible was this evidence?
" 3. What investigative steps, if any, would have led to this additional evidence? In 1982, when petitioner's case was tried, would a reasonably competent attorney have tried to obtain such evidence and to present it at the penalty phase?
" 4. What circumstances, if any, weighed against the investigation or presentation of this additional evidence? What evidence damaging to petitioner, but not presented by the prosecution at the guilt or penalty trials, would likely have been presented in rebuttal if petitioner had introduced this evidence?
" 5. Did petitioner do or say anything to hinder or prevent the investigation or presentation of mitigating evidence at the penalty phase, or did he ask that any such evidence not be presented? If so, what did he do or say?"
Below, we summarize the referee's findings regarding these questions, and we address the exceptions taken by the parties to those findings.
A. What actions did petitioner's trial counsel take to investigate potential evidence that could have been presented in mitigation at the penalty phase of petitioner's capital trial? What were the results of that investigation?
1. Referee's findings
The referee's findings on this question pertained to three categories of potentially [170 Cal.Rptr.3d 219] mitigating evidence: (1) evidence pertaining to the charged offenses (the murders of Bobby and Eric Hassan); (2) evidence responding to the prosecution's aggravating evidence, which consisted of the two felonies (robbery and aggravated assault) petitioner committed as a juvenile, the crimes committed at the Taylor home (hereafter the Taylor crimes), and the murder of Teheran Jefferson;  and (3) evidence pertaining to petitioner's social history, development, and mental functioning.
With regard to the first category of potentially mitigating evidence--evidence pertaining to the murders of Bobby and Eric Hassan--the referee found that Defense Counsel Skyers had read the discovery provided by the prosecution, visited the crime scene as well as petitioner's home and Helen Keller Park (which was across the street from the Hassans' home and was the scene of certain events relevant to the Taylor crimes, discussed in pt. II.B.2.a., post ), and spoke with petitioner and those members of petitioner's family who were potential witnesses. Skyers did not independently investigate or interview the prosecution witnesses. Skyers, the referee said, knew that the prosecutor had no evidence that it was petitioner who shot the Hassans, but he also was aware that the egregious nature of the murders--the execution-style shooting of a man and his 14-year-old son--would place, in the referee's words, " an almost insurmountable burden on any reasonable trial attorney in identifying and presenting ... mitigation."
As to the second category of potentially mitigating evidence--evidence refuting the prosecution's aggravating evidence--the testimony at the posttrial reference hearing focused primarily on the Taylor crimes. (See p. 969, ante .) As previously explained ( ibid .), petitioner was not charged with those crimes, but codefendant Ross was, and at the guilt phase of trial prosecution witness Cora Taylor identified petitioner as one of the perpetrators. The referee found that Defense Counsel Skyers had reviewed the discovery he received from the prosecution pertaining to those crimes, but that he conducted no independent investigation to determine whether he could present evidence that petitioner was not one of the perpetrators. The referee noted that Skyers was unsure whether he had even asked petitioner about an alibi. Skyers did not attend the trial of Evan Mallet, who was charged with the Taylor crimes and whose trial occurred before that of petitioner and Ross, nor did he read the transcripts of Mallet's trial.
As to the murder of Teheran Jefferson, the referee found that Defense Counsel Skyers had read the police reports provided by the prosecution and visited the crime scene, but that he did no additional investigation (such as contacting witnesses identified in the police reports, conducting ballistics tests on the bullet found in Jefferson's body, or investigating the extent to which the Jefferson murder resembled the murders of the two Hassans and of Michael Taylor).
With respect to the two felonies petitioner committed as a juvenile, the referee found that Skyers had read the discovery furnished by the prosecution, and the referee noted that the " main mitigation" pertaining
[170 Cal.Rptr.3d 220] to these offenses was " petitioner's age and lack of
Turning to the third category of potentially mitigating evidence--evidence pertaining to petitioner's social history, development, and mental functioning--the referee found that Defense Counsel Skyers had reviewed petitioner's CYA records, which the referee described as documenting " petitioner's conduct within a structured setting." The records contained reports by two psychologists and two psychiatrists, all of whom concluded that petitioner had no mental illness, defect, or disorder. Skyers also reviewed a report jointly prepared by two psychiatrists (Dr. Seymour Pollack and Dr. Lillian Imperi) appointed by the trial court at the request of Skyers's predecessor, Homer Mason, to evaluate petitioner's mental health. Drs. Pollack and Imperi, like the mental health professionals at CYA, found no evidence that petitioner suffered from any mental illness, defect, or disorder.
Defense Counsel Skyers, the referee found, had interviewed petitioner and visited his home, where Skyers talked to petitioner's mother, older sisters, and one of his two older brothers about petitioner's homelife, childhood, and other family matters. Skyers did not interview petitioner's older brother Lewis or his younger siblings, nor did he contact members of petitioner's extended family who lived nearby. The family did not tell Skyers that petitioner had suffered fetal abuse, an alleged 1968 head injury, head trauma inflicted by older brothers, and extreme family poverty, topics that family members testified to at the posttrial reference hearing.
The referee found that Defense Counsel Skyers " did not adequately conduct a separate, independent [penalty] investigation" ; that he " failed to retain a penalty phase investigator" ; that he " did not interview all potential mitigation witnesses including petitioner's teachers, friends, CYA staff, CYA doctors, fellow gang members or law enforcement personnel" ; and that he " did not assemble all documents" pertaining to the penalty phase, including " school records and ... [Evan] Mallet's trial transcripts."
The Attorney General does not dispute the referee's findings. Petitioner, however, takes exception to two findings that he alleges the referee made, which we address below.
2. Exceptions to the referee's findings
First, petitioner asserts: " There is no basis for the referee's finding that [Defense Counsel Ronald] Skyers obtained a penalty phase evaluation from [psychiatrist Seymour] Pollack." Petitioner does not give a page citation for any such finding in the referee's report, and we cannot locate any such finding. The referee correctly stated: " The record is clear that Skyers
did not specifically ask Dr. Pollack to conduct a social history evaluation of
petitioner's life for the specific purpose of developing potential penalty phase
Second, petitioner takes exception to the referee's finding that Defense Counsel Skyers reviewed the mental health evaluations of petitioner prepared at CYA when petitioner was incarcerated there. Petitioner points out that Skyers testified at the posttrial reference hearing that he could not remember whether he had reviewed these evaluations, and that Skyers's case file did not contain copies of the evaluations. Skyers's lack of recall is not surprising, because the hearing occurred more than two decades after petitioner's capital trial. But materials in Skyers's case file indicate that he did review the evaluations: A file note states that Skyers spoke to a person at the parole [170 Cal.Rptr.3d 221] office who said that Skyers needed authorization from petitioner to see petitioner's CYA file, the file contains an authorization petitioner signed three days after the date of the note, and another file note gives the address of the CYA parole office where a review logically would have occurred. Based on this circumstantial evidence, we agree with the referee that Skyers most likely reviewed the CYA mental health evaluations.
B. What additional mitigating evidence, if any, could petitioner have presented at the penalty phase? How credible was this evidence?
1. Referee's findings
Regarding the circumstances surrounding the charged murders of Bobby and Eric Hassan, the referee found that petitioner failed to show that Defense Counsel Skyers could have presented any additional mitigating evidence. The referee also found that petitioner produced no mitigating evidence that the defense could have presented pertaining to the murder of Teheran Jefferson (evidence of which was presented by the prosecution at the guilt phase of petitioner's capital trial), or to the two felonies petitioner committed as a juvenile (evidence of which was presented by the prosecution at the penalty phase).
With respect to the Taylor crimes, the referee concluded that the defense could have presented alibi evidence tending to show that petitioner was not at the Taylor home on the night of the crimes. (We summarize this evidence in pt. II.B.2.a., post .) But the referee also found that the witnesses who testified to this alibi at the posttrial reference hearing were, like petitioner, members of the Raymond Avenue Crips,
a criminal street gang. Their testimony, the referee said, was " inconsistent
with their own declarations, with each other and with petitioner's own trial
testimony," and was " not credible." Presentation of such alibi evidence at the
penalty phase, the referee concluded, would not have assisted petitioner, as it
would have confirmed petitioner's gang membership (which petitioner had denied
in his guilt phase testimony) and his close association with codefendant Ross,
whose guilt of the Taylor crimes was overwhelmingly shown.
With respect to petitioner's social history, development, and mental functioning, petitioner presented evidence at the posttrial reference hearing that he suffered from brain damage, that he was traumatized by the death of a man who acted as a father figure toward him, that he performed poorly in school, that he was physically abused by various family members, that he grew up in impoverished circumstances, that he was amenable to rehabilitation and institutional adjustment, and that he was loved by his family and friends. As explained below, the referee found that some of this evidence was credible but some was not.
With respect to petitioner's allegation that Defense Counsel Skyers could have presented evidence of petitioner's brain damage, the referee found the claim " not supportable." The referee noted that two psychologists and two psychiatrists at CYA, two psychiatrists retained by Homer Mason (Defense Counsel Skyers's predecessor as petitioner's trial attorney), and two mental health experts (a clinical psychologist and a forensic psychiatrist) who testified for the prosecution at the posttrial reference hearing all found no evidence that petitioner was neuropsychologically impaired. Although petitioner claimed he could have suffered brain
[170 Cal.Rptr.3d 222] damage as a result of alleged fetal abuse, a traffic accident, or beatings allegedly inflicted by his older brothers, the referee found that petitioner did not suffer brain damage as a result of any of these events. The referee further found that, in view of the mental health examinations described above, all of which found no evidence of psychological impairment, Defense Counsel Skyers " did not have any reason to order any additional evaluations," and " no trial attorney could be faulted for not asking for further testing or concluding that no mitigating evidence existed at the time of trial as to petitioner's mental status."
With regard to petitioner's performance in school, the referee found that records from petitioner's school and from CYA showed that petitioner had " a low IQ, low intellectual functioning, reading and learning difficulties, attention deficits, a flat affect, deficiency in ability to conceptualize, low self-esteem, impulsiveness and a bad temper." This evidence, the referee found, was " credible and available at time of trial."
As to the economic circumstances of petitioner's family, the referee rejected as lacking in credibility the evidence presented by petitioner that he grew up in extreme poverty, that he suffered from malnutrition and deprivation of childhood necessities, and that he was beaten by his older brothers. The referee found, however, that when petitioner's mother was working, " her absence from the home resulted in her inability to provide proper care, guidance, and supervision to petitioner."
With respect to petitioner's family and upbringing, the referee found that petitioner's biological father was physically abusive, but that he abandoned
the family before petitioner was born. Petitioner's mother soon became romantically involved with Gerald Trabue, Sr., who was the primary father figure in petitioner's life from the time of his birth until he was six years old, when Trabue was killed in a traffic accident. Trabue, the referee found, was a " wonderful person and provider" and his death " had a devastating impact on petitioner's family" : Petitioner's mother became depressed and the family temporarily experienced " major financial difficulties." Trabue's death " adversely impacted" petitioner, who " did not have another father figure afterwards." These matters, the referee found, could have been presented by counsel had it not been for the failure of members of petitioner's family to disclose them to Defense Counsel Skyers.
With respect to petitioner's amenability to rehabilitation and institutional adjustment, the referee found that the evidence was mixed: Some CYA reports said that petitioner had complied with CYA rules and regulations, did well in his classes, was respectful to staff, and performed well in a structured setting. But the referee found that petitioner's participation in the murders of Bobby and Eric Hassan less than two months after his release from CYA " nullify this mitigation," and other CYA reports mentioned incidents of violent conduct while petitioner was at CYA.
With respect to love and support from family and friends, the referee found that the testimony of petitioner's mother, while lacking credibility in many respects, indicated her love and affection for petitioner, and that at the trial's penalty phase Defense Counsel Skyers should have called her to testify about her feelings for petitioner. The referee also found that other family members and childhood friend Gary Jones, had they been called as witnesses at trial, could have credibly testified that they loved and cared for petitioner.
The Attorney General does not dispute the referee's findings. Petitioner takes exception to 11 findings. We divide his exceptions into two categories. First, we address his exceptions pertaining to the referee's findings regarding mitigating evidence
[170 Cal.Rptr.3d 223] that might have been presented to counter the prosecution's aggravating evidence (the murders of Bobby and Eric Hassan,
the Taylor crimes, the murder of Teheran Jefferson, and the crimes committed by
petitioner as a minor). Second, we consider petitioner's exceptions pertaining
to the referee's findings regarding mitigating evidence pertaining to
petitioner's social history, development, and mental functioning.
2. Exceptions to referee findings pertaining to the prosecution's aggravating evidence
a. " The reference court erred in finding petitioner's lay witnesses not credible."
At the posttrial reference hearing, petitioner presented alibi evidence tending to show that he did not commit the Taylor crimes, but the referee found that crucial alibi witnesses were not credible. Petitioner challenges this finding. To evaluate his claim, we review the pertinent evidence presented at petitioner's capital trial, after which we summarize the alibi evidence presented at the reference hearing.
Between 11:00 p.m. and midnight on December 27, 1980, three Black males invaded the Taylor home looking for drugs, and a fourth Black male (apparently a lookout) came to the door but did not enter. The men ransacked the home, stole a tape player and a photograph album, and fatally shot Michael Taylor. One of the men raped Mary Taylor.
Shortly after the murder, a Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputy tried to stop four Black males in a brown Buick car that did not have its headlights on and was near Helen Keller Park, within half a mile of the Taylor home. The Buick took off at high speed, struck a curb, and came to a halt near petitioner's home; its occupants ran away. In the car, deputies found a tape player and a photograph album stolen from the Taylor apartment, as well as a revolver stolen from the Hassan home that, a prosecution expert concluded, probably fired the bullet that killed Michael Taylor. In the backyard of petitioner's home, the deputies found Evan Mallet, who was later identified as one of the perpetrators of the Taylor crimes. Thus, it is likely that the occupants of the brown Buick committed those crimes.
Petitioner testified at the guilt phase of his capital trial, denying that he was one of the men who murdered Bobby and Eric Hassan, but on direct examination he did not mention the Taylor crimes. On cross-examination, the prosecutor asked petitioner where he was on the night of those crimes. Petitioner said he was home between 10:00 and 11:00 p.m., but that he left between 11:00 and 11:30 p.m. and stayed out until after midnight. He said that during that time (but after the crash of the brown Buick) he was detained by sheriff's deputies. Petitioner's mother, when asked on cross-examination where petitioner was that night, said he was at home.
At the posttrial reference hearing, petitioner's alibi witnesses--Marcus Player, Wayne Harris, and Earl Bogans--testified that petitioner was playing basketball in Helen Keller Park at the time of the Taylor crimes. Their
testimony also tended to implicate Robert Simms rather than petitioner as the one who, along with Craig Ross and Evan Mallet, committed the Taylor crimes. We summarize the alibi witnesses' testimony below.
Marcus Player testified that on the night in question he was at his fiancé e's house, but between 10:00 and 11:00 p.m. he walked to a liquor store to buy some orange juice or milk. On his way, he saw a group of people, including petitioner and Wayne Harris (Player's cousin), at the basketball
[170 Cal.Rptr.3d 224] court in Helen Keller Park, and he spoke with them for half an hour. He then went to the liquor store to make his purchase. On the way back to his fiancé e's house, sheriff's deputies detained him. Petitioner and Harris were not with him at the time. While Player was being detained, a brown Buick that Player recognized as belonging to his stepfather entered the park, and the deputies left him to chase it.
Hearing the Buick crash, Player, joined by petitioner and Harris, went to see what had happened. Sheriff's deputies then detained and questioned them. Player told the deputies that the car belonged to his stepfather and that he had last seen it being driven by his brother Michael. The deputies ordered Player, petitioner, and Harris to walk to the location of another patrol car. While they were walking there, they were joined by a youth whom Player knew only by the name " Lil Owl." The deputies at the second car ordered them to sit on a curb for approximately half an hour, during which time a police car came by and shone a spotlight on them. Eventually, the deputies took Lil Owl into custody and allowed Player, Harris, and petitioner to go to petitioner's home.
Wayne Harris testified that on the night in question he and petitioner, along with a dozen other youths, played basketball until about 10:30 p.m., when they left to go to the store. As they walked, sheriff's deputies arrived at the park and detained several youths, not including petitioner and Harris.  While the detentions were occurring, a brown Buick came into the park, then sped away, apparently after its occupants saw the deputies. The deputies gave chase. Harris, petitioner, and Marcus Player then started walking west on 126th Street, noticing that the Buick, which Harris recognized as belonging to the Player family, had crashed. Shortly thereafter, sheriff's deputies detained the trio and ordered them to walk to another sheriff's department vehicle. As they walked, Lil Owl joined them. When they reached the second sheriff's vehicle, the deputies questioned the youths and checked their pulse rates by placing a hand on each of their chests. Eventually they took Lil Owl away and allowed petitioner, Player, and Harris to go to petitioner's home.
Earl Bogans testified that on the night in question he arrived at Helen Keller Park between 7:00 and 7:30 p.m. There, he played basketball with petitioner, Marcus Player, and other youths for about 90 minutes, after which they sat in the parking lot smoking marijuana. About 10:00 p.m., two patrol cars drove up. The sheriff's deputies inside told the youths to lie on their stomachs. Suddenly a brown car entered the parking lot and quickly backed out again, and the deputies left to chase it. Bogans then went home.
Sheriff's reports prepared at the time of the murder and testimony of sheriff's deputies at the posttrial reference hearing corroborated parts of the testimony of Player, Harris, and Bogans. According to the reports and testimony, sheriff's patrol cars went to Helen Keller Park shortly before midnight on the night of the Taylor crimes, responding to a call of a gang-related disturbance. There, the deputies detained four Black males. When the chase of the brown Buick began, the deputies left the park and joined in the chase. After the Buick ...