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People v. Palafox

California Court of Appeals, Fifth District

November 3, 2014

THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
LUIS WILLIAM PALAFOX, Defendant and Appellant.

APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Kern County. No. BF125737B John S. Somers, Judge.

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COUNSEL

Heather J. MacKay, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant.

Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General, Dane R. Gillette, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Michael P. Farrell, Assistant Attorney General, and Kathleen A. McKenna, Deputy Attorney General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

OPINION

DETJEN, J.

Luis William Palafox (defendant) appeals from the imposition of consecutive terms of life in prison without the possibility of parole (LWOP) for two special-circumstance murders he and Kyle Hoffman committed when both were 16 years old. In this case of first impression, we conclude the sentence is constitutional despite the trial court’s inability to exclude the possibility of rehabilitation. No particular factor, relevant to the decision whether to impose LWOP on a juvenile who has committed murder, predominates under the law. Hence, as long as a trial court gives due consideration to an offender’s youth and attendant characteristics, as required by Miller v. Alabama (2012) 567 U.S. ___ [183 L.Ed.2d 407, 132 S.Ct. 2455] (Miller), it may, in exercising its discretion under Penal Code section 190.5, subdivision (b), give such weight to the relevant factors as it reasonably determines is appropriate under all the circumstances of the case. Accordingly, we affirm.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY [1]

Sometime between August 4 and 6, 2008, an elderly couple, Joseph and Dorothy Parrott, were murdered in their beds at their Bakersfield home. Joseph Parrott was stabbed multiple times in the neck and beaten about the head and upper body with a linear object. His death, which was caused by sharp and blunt-force injuries, was not instantaneous. Dorothy Parrott was severely beaten all over her body with a linear object, and the entire right side of her face was crushed. The cause of her death was blunt force head trauma.

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In each instance, the bruising was consistent with a baseball bat. Several months later, items taken from the Parrott home were found in defendant’s and Hoffman’s residences. Blood on defendant’s knife matched Joseph Parrott’s genetic profile.

Defendant’s and Hoffman’s cases were consolidated for trial, but separate juries were impaneled. Hoffman’s jury heard evidence Hoffman confessed that the two broke into the house to get money for drugs. They chose that house because they did not see any car and no one answered a knock on the front door. Defendant, who was carrying a wooden baseball bat, said that, if there were any people, he would take care of them, although Hoffman professed to believe defendant was kidding. According to Hoffman, he remained outside while defendant went in. By the time Hoffman entered, the Parrotts were dead. Hoffman and defendant then took various items from the residence. Hoffman insisted he did not kill anyone or see defendant hurt either victim. Defendant did, however, tell him what defendant did and how it felt.

Defendant’s jury heard evidence Hoffman’s sister overheard defendant and Hoffman talking about going into someone’s house and stealing. They took her baseball bat with them when they left the Hoffman apartment. She subsequently saw money and jewelry in Hoffman’s backpack. When she asked defendant about his involvement in the murders, defendant denied, more than once, knowing what she was talking about. Eventually, however, he admitted he was involved and told her not to talk about it.

Defendant and Hoffman each were convicted of two counts of first degree murder (Pen. Code, [2] § 187, subd. (a)), with multiple-murder (§ 190.2, subd. (a)(3)), robbery-murder (id., subd. (a)(17)(A)), and burglary-murder (id., subd. (a)(17)(G)) special circumstances. Each was sentenced to two consecutive LWOP terms.[3]

We originally affirmed the judgments in their entirety, rejecting claims, inter alia, that imposition of LWOP on a juvenile — even one who killed — violates the federal and state Constitutions. Upon petition for rehearing, however, we modified our opinion to include a lengthy discussion of Miller. We found the trial court did not abuse its discretion under the law as it stood when it sentenced defendant and Hoffman. Nevertheless, we concluded that because the “characteristics discussed in Miller were not at the forefront of

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the factors considered by the trial court when exercising its discretion …, [defendant and Hoffman were] entitled to have the trial court reconsider its decision under section 190.5, subdivision (b) in light of Miller, and to be resentenced accordingly.” (People v. Hoffman, supra, F061127, as mod. July 30, 2012, fn. omitted.) As a result, we affirmed the judgments of conviction, but vacated the sentences and remanded the matters to the trial court “to exercise its discretion under … section 190.5 in light of Miller” and to resentence defendant and Hoffman. (Ibid.)

In preparation for the resentencing hearing, defendant presented a written report prepared by Angela Mason, a licensed clinical social worker who specialized in forensic social work and mitigation.[4] In her report, Mason related she had twice interviewed defendant, who was born in March 1992, and who had the demeanor of an adolescent. She also interviewed three of his aunts, and his parents. She reviewed the petition for rehearing filed in this court; our order modifying the opinion and denying rehearing; a November 20, 2009, psychological evaluation by Eugene Couture, Ph.D.[5]; the probation officer’s report; and school records from the Moreno Valley Unified School District.

Mason’s report related that defendant’s maternal grandfather died in prison after being convicted of molesting a 12-year-old relative. Two of defendant’s uncles (one of whom was Hoffman) were serving life sentences for murder. Defendant’s maternal grandmother beat his mother, who, along with one of her sisters and a brother, got involved in gangs. Defendant’s father was also a gang member. Defendant’s maternal grandmother used cocaine and “speed, ” and his paternal grandfather was an alcoholic.

Defendant’s mother became pregnant with him at age 15. Defendant’s father described it as an unwanted and unplanned pregnancy.[6] Although

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defendant’s mother denied using drugs during her pregnancy, she smoked marijuana daily and drank — sometimes heavily — on weekends after defendant was born.[7] Gunfire and gang activity were frequent in the neighborhood in which defendant lived.

Defendant’s parents separated in 1993. Prior to their separation, defendant was frequently exposed to incidents of domestic violence.[8] After the separation, defendant’s father rarely chose to see him. Defendant’s mother moved a lot and continued to drink and smoke marijuana.

Defendant’s mother became involved with another gang member, Israel Rios, and together they had four children. Rios and defendant’s mother used drugs, smoked marijuana with the children in the house, and Rios drank heavily. Rios was aggressive with the children, and whipped defendant with his hand or a belt until defendant turned 12 years old and was “too big to beat.” Because the family moved around a lot, defendant never joined a gang.

Mason related that defendant’s family “suffered from multigenerational abject poverty.” Research has shown “poverty damages children’s dispositions, blunts their brains, and causes permanent brain damage from excessive exposure to toxic stress.” Mason surmised a “‘blunted brain’” may have made defendant appear cold and distant to doctors and probation officers, when in reality he may have been showing the signs of poverty and its effects.

Mason’s report detailed the large number of different schools defendant attended throughout his life. In high school, he tested below basic in English and algebra, and far below basic in world history, life science, and biology. According to an aunt, he had speech problems and a lisp. Another aunt described him, as an adolescent, as “quiet, withdrawn, and young-minded.” During his school years, he was suspended multiple times for marijuana, possession of a knife, tagging, and other behavior problems. When, during high school, defendant got in trouble for marijuana, his mother enrolled him in individual and group counseling for a few months. According to Mason, however, it was ...


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