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People v. Charles

Supreme Court of California

June 1, 2015

THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
EDWARD CHARLES III, Defendant and Appellant

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Superior Court of Orange County, No. 94NF2611, Everett W. Dickey and William R. Froeberg, Judge.

R. Clayton Seaman, Jr., under appointment by the Supreme Court, for Defendant and Appellant.

Edmund G. Brown, Jr., and Kamala D. Harris, Attorneys General, Dane R. Gillette, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Gary W. Schons, Assistant Attorney General, Adrianne S. Denault and Peter Quon, Jr., Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

Opinion by Werdegar, J., with Cantil-Sakauye, C. J., Chin, Corrigan, Liu, Cuéllar and Kruger, JJ., concurring.


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[349 P.3d 994] [188 Cal.Rptr.3d 287] WERDEGAR, J.

Defendant Edward Charles III was convicted at trial of one count of first degree murder and two counts of second degree [349 P.3d 995] [188 Cal.Rptr.3d 288] murder (Pen. Code, § 187, subd. (a).) [1] The jury also found true multiple-murder special-circumstance allegations. (§ 190.2, subd. (a)(3).) Following a fourth penalty trial, the jury returned a verdict of death. The trial court denied the automatic application to modify the verdict (§ 190.4, subd. (e)) and sentenced defendant to death. This appeal is automatic. (§ 1239, subd. (b).) We affirm the judgment.

Statement of Facts

1. Guilt Phase

A. Summary

Defendant was charged with killing his father, Edward Charles II, his mother, Dolores Charles, and his 19-year-old younger brother, Daniel Charles. [2] The prosecution showed that on the evening of November 6, 1994, defendant went to his parents' home around dinnertime when his parents and brother were all present. Sometime later, defendant abducted Danny, stabbed him, and forced him into the trunk of Danny's car. He either choked or hit Danny in the neck with sufficient force to break his hyoid bone before killing him by striking him repeatedly in the head with a 16-inch crescent wrench. Defendant returned to his parents' house in the early morning hours of November 7, where he strangled his mother and beat his father to death with a blunt object. After cleaning up, he carried his parents' bodies to his mother's car, where he had placed Danny's body in the trunk, and went to his job at a service station, where he worked a full day. That night, he drove the car to a high school parking lot and set it on fire. He confessed his crime to his martial arts instructor, but he also attempted to persuade his 73-year-old grandfather to take the blame for the murders. In a conversation with one of his jailers and in a letter to a fellow inmate, defendant, while denying he had committed the murders, admitted he had cleaned up the murder scene at his parents' house, placed the victims' bodies in a car, and attempted to burn them.

The defense, in essence, was that defendant had neither the character nor the motive to kill his parents and brother.

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B. Prosecution Case-in-chief

Defendant is the elder son of Edward and Dolores. In November 1994, defendant was 22 years old and his brother Danny was 19. Defendant worked as a mechanic at the Sunny Hills Chevron station in Fullerton; Danny was a sophomore at the University of Southern California (U.S.C.). Neither lived at their parents' home on Terraza Place in Fullerton, but their maternal grandfather, Bernard Severino, did. His room was at the opposite end of the house from the master bedroom, where Edward and Dolores slept. Danny lived at U.S.C. and defendant was living with the family of his fiancé e, Tiffany Bowen, who was away at school.

On Sunday, November 6, all the members of the Charles family, except defendant, had dinner together. At some point, defendant arrived. There were no arguments among the family. Severino, the sole eyewitness to the events of that evening, told police Danny left first, about 8:00 p.m., followed shortly by defendant. About 9:00 p.m., Dolores expressed concern to Severino that Danny had not called to report he had arrived safely at USC, as was his habit. Severino last spoke to his daughter at 11:30 that night. She was still [188 Cal.Rptr.3d 289] awaiting Danny's call. Severino went to bed.

Gina Simms lived on Lakeside Drive in Fullerton around the corner from the Charleses' house. About 9:30 p.m. on November 6, she was accompanying her friend Susan Poladin and Poladin's daughter from her house to their car. As they walked down the driveway the two women heard someone calling for help. The call appeared to come from the trunk of a car parked across the street. They returned to Simms's house to call the police but by the time the police arrived, the car was gone. At trial, the women identified Danny's Honda as similar to the car they saw that evening.

[349 P.3d 996] About 9:50 p.m., Bryan Poor, defendant's coworker at the Chevron station, saw defendant arrive in a small, light-colored sedan he had never seen defendant drive before. Defendant told him the car belonged to Tiffany Bowen's mother, Jeanne, and he was testing the clutch or brakes. Defendant parked the car in a poorly lit area of the station. Ordinarily, he parked in front.

Jeanne Bowen testified that on November 6, she owned a gold Impala and a red Mustang, neither of which had a clutch. She also testified that, although defendant was living at her home in November 1994, he did not spend the night of November 6 there.

On Monday, November 7, 1994, Severino woke about 5:30 a.m. and went out to walk the family dog. He noticed a three-foot-long trail of blood drops

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in front of the steps to the house. He also observed that Dolores's car was not parked in its usual spot. About 6:10 a.m., Jerry Kuhn, who lived across the street, went out to pick up the newspaper and saw defendant using a towel or a rag to rub the Charleses' driveway. Defendant stopped when he saw Kuhn watching him. He resumed when Kuhn went back into his house, where Kuhn continued to watch defendant from a window. Defendant threw the towel or rag into the back of a truck parked in the driveway.

Defendant reported for work at the Chevron station about 8:00 a.m. James Burchit, the owner, said defendant was unshaven and looked like he had been up all night.

Defendant worked until 4:00 p.m. Sometime before 7:00 p.m., he returned to his parents' residence. By now Severino was concerned because his daughter and son-in-law had not been home all day. He asked defendant if he knew where they were. Defendant told him Danny had had a clutch problem with his car and his parents had gone to pick him up. Severino said he was going to call the police. Defendant left.

According to Jeanne Bowen, defendant arrived at the Bowen residence about 7:00 p.m. At around 9:00 p.m., he asked Ty Bowen, Jeanne's son, to give him a ride to the Chevron station. Defendant had been driving Tiffany Bowen's truck, and it was at the residence, but Ty Bowen drove him to the station. About 10:00 p.m., Jeanne Bowen received a phone call from someone named " Rob" who asked for Ty. She gave the phone to her son. It was defendant, and he asked Ty to pick him up at a softball field. Ty again complied.

The softball field was about sixth-tenths of a mile from El Camino High School in La Mirada where, about 10:00 p.m., Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy James Rifilato was dispatched to investigate a car fire. Rifilato found a gray Honda Civic smoldering in the school's parking lot. The vehicle was registered to Edward and Dolores. Rifilato looked inside the car and saw the nude, badly burned bodies of a man and a woman in the rear passenger [188 Cal.Rptr.3d 290] seat. In the trunk, Rifilato found a clothed male body, less burnt than the other two. The bodies in the backseat were identified as Edward and Dolores. The body in the trunk was Danny. An arson investigator who arrived at the scene shortly after Rifilato determined the fire had been intentionally set in three locations, with gasoline used as the accelerant. Police also recovered a knife, a blue T-shirt, and a purple sweatshirt from the car.

An autopsy revealed that Danny had been stabbed twice in the back and was then either choked or struck in the neck with sufficient force to break his hyoid bone, which is located under the jaw. He was then struck in the head

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four times with sufficient force to fracture his skull. The cause of death was blunt force injury to the head.

Edward's autopsy revealed that his chest, back, neck, and head had been repeatedly struck, fracturing his ribs, spinal column, neck, jaw, cheek, and skull. The cause of his death was blunt force injuries to his head and neck.

The autopsy on Dolores's body revealed the cause of death was asphyxia due to neck compression. The medical examiner attributed this to strangulation or a blow to her neck. An examination of the victims' stomach contents indicated Danny was killed first and then his parents, several hours later.

Sometime between 3:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m., Leann Pollaccia was " dumpster diving" behind [349 P.3d 997] a business in an industrial area in Fullerton looking for items to sell. She found a 30-gallon garbage pail that held clothes and a towel soaked with blood. Pollaccia kept digging and found a wrench engraved with the yin-yang symbol. [3] There was hair and blood on the wrench but she took it anyway, leaving the clothes except for a pair of jeans, which she washed. Later, when she read newspaper accounts about the murders that identified defendant as a mechanic, she concluded the wrench was probably the weapon police were looking for, so she turned it over to the police. Kimberly Speare, defendant's former girlfriend, testified she and defendant had engraved all of his tools with the yin-yang symbol and identified the wrench as part of the set of tools they had engraved. Steve Dowell, a criminalist with the Los Angeles coroner's office whose specialties included tool mark analysis, compared the wrench to Danny's and Edward's skull injuries. He concluded an injury to Danny's skull bore marks consistent with the class of wrenches to which defendant's wrench belonged. He could not exclude it as the object that produced the injuries to Edward's skull. Heidi Robbins, the prosecution's serologist, testified that blood found on the wrench was consistent only with Danny's blood.

Los Angeles County Sheriff's Sergeant Curt Royer, the lead investigator, first spoke to defendant at the Bowens' residence at 6:15 a.m. on Tuesday, November 8. Defendant told Royer he had last seen his brother and parents on Sunday night around 8:00 p.m., when Danny left to return to USC. Defendant said he left shortly afterwards and spent the night at the Bowen residence. As to his whereabouts on Monday night, he told Royer he had arrived at the Bowen residence at 8:00 [188 Cal.Rptr.3d 291] p.m. and remained there until Royer had awakened him.

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Royer asked defendant why, if his brother had left his parents' residence while his parents remained there, they had been found in the same vehicle. Defendant said his brother's car had had clutch problems, so he had probably returned home and had his parents drive him to college. When Royer observed that defendant had not asked him why he was inquiring about his parents, defendant asked, " Well, why? What happened?" Royer told him his parents and brother had been found dead in a car. Defendant said he warned them not to go to the college at night. He dropped to the ground and appeared to sob but, when Royer told defendant he knew he was faking, defendant stopped.

Later that day, Royer spoke to defendant again. He told defendant that Jeanne Bowen had informed him defendant had not spent Sunday night at the Bowen residence. Defendant then remembered he had gone back to his parents' house and slept there without anyone having seen him arrive or leave.

Around 5:50 p.m. on the same day, Tuesday, defendant called Philip Axelson. Axelson had been defendant's martial arts teacher for three years, until March 1994. Defendant referred to Axelson as " sensei," the Japanese word for teacher. Under Axelson's tutelage defendant had risen to the green belt level. To achieve that level, defendant had had to be able to break two one-inch-thick boards with his feet and three with his hands. Axelson had seen defendant break as many as five boards, although he did not say whether this was with his hands or feet. At that level, defendant would have been capable of inflicting a severe blow to another person's body.

Axelson was at the health club where he worked when he was told he had an emergency call. The employee who answered it told Axelson the caller had identified himself as " Eddie," and " sound[ed] really upset." When Axelson took the phone, defendant was crying. Axelson asked him " What's going on?" He told Axelson he had " done a terrible thing." Axelson asked what it was and defendant said, " I killed my family." Axelson said, " What?" and defendant said, " I [349 P.3d 998] think I killed my family." Axelson said, " What are you telling me? What are you saying to me?" Defendant replied, " I think I killed my family. I need to come down and talk to you right away." Axelson, concerned about the safety of other club members and employees should defendant be armed, asked for defendant's number and told him he would call him back. After getting off the phone with defendant, Axelson called the police and reported the conversation.

Axelson testified further that he and defendant had had a close relationship while defendant trained with him. Defendant conveyed the impression he hated his brother Danny, who he thought might become a homosexual

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because of Danny's interest in opera and theater. Defendant's feelings toward his mother were also negative; he thought that her smoking showed a lack of regard for his health. As to defendant's father, Axelson testified there was " no love there." Defendant complained his father was distant and did not listen to him. Axelson testified that defendant demonstrated no regard for any member of his family.

Defendant was arrested for the murders on November 9, 1994.

On November 10, 1994, Heidi Robbins, a serologist with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department crime lab, went to the Charleses' residence. Robbins took samples of blood she found at the entrance, in the foyer, and in the master bedroom [188 Cal.Rptr.3d 292] on a nightstand, a computer, the headboard, the wall above the headboard, the mattress and the box spring. A pair of sparring gloves found in the dining room also had blood on them. Robbins analyzed some, but not all, of the samples she collected in the house. She concluded that blood on the nightstand was consistent with Edward's. The blood on the sparring gloves was consistent with defendant's. Robbins was also given the knife recovered from the trunk of the car where Danny's body was found. Blood on the knife was consistent with his blood.

Sometime in late November, defendant called his grandfather from jail and told him he should take the blame for the murders because he was 74 years old and had already lived his life. (Severino was actually 73.) Severino hung up on him. Defendant called back and told him that his fiancé e, Tiffany Bowen, was pregnant and defendant had his life to lead.

On November 23, 1994, an agitated defendant asked to speak to one of his jailers at Orange County jail, Deputy Sheriff Gene Hyatt. Defendant told Hyatt his grandfather had committed the murders. He told Hyatt that on the night of the murders his grandfather was upset because defendant's parents were bickering with Danny. Defendant said he left his parents' house before Danny did but returned around 11:30 p.m. Upon his return, he found a bloody ball peen hammer in the kitchen, the bodies of the three victims in his parents' bedroom, and his 73-year-old grandfather in his bedroom covered with blood. Defendant decided to cover up for his grandfather. He showered the blood off his grandfather, put him into bed, and cleaned blood from the house. He put the bodies in a car parked in the driveway and then went to bed. The next evening, after working a full day, he drove the bodies to the high school parking lot, doused them with gasoline, set the car on fire and walked home.

On December 7, 1994, an inmate named Cezar Pincock approached Sergeant Royer with a letter Pincock claimed defendant had written to him.

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He offered the letter to Royer in exchange for Royer's help in two cases, one in which Pincock had been sentenced and the other of which was pending. Royer rejected Pincock's request for help and seized the letter as evidence. Although the letter does not contain a date or defendant's name, his former girlfriend, Kimberly Speare, with whom he had lived for a year and a half, testified the writing in the letter was his.

Tony Saavedra, a reporter with The Orange County Register, obtained a copy of the letter and published an article in the newspaper on January 3, 1995, that quoted extensively from it. Before writing and publishing the piece he interviewed defendant about the letter. Saavedra held the first page of the letter up to the glass partition that separated him from defendant, and either [349 P.3d 999] read or held up other pages of the letter, while asking him questions about specific passages. Saavedra prefaced his questions with remarks like " You wrote here," or " You said here." At no point did defendant deny authorship of the letter. In fact, defendant clarified some of the passages that Saavedra did not understand. For example, he explained what was meant in the letter by the term " monkey boots." Saavedra also asked defendant about passages in the letter discussing the burning of the bodies. Defendant explained that he couldn't bury them, but if he burned them " it could be like cremating them." Defendant also told Saavedra that, as the bodies burned, defendant ran to a nearby baseball field and called his fiancé e's brother for a ride home. Appended to the letter was a diagram of the layout of [188 Cal.Rptr.3d 293] the Charles residence in which furniture was accurately positioned. It also contained information that was not in any of the police reports.

Defendant in the letter did not admit killing his family. Defendant wrote he arrived at his parents' house about 11:30 p.m. and found his parents dead. He wrote he " know[s] who did this and they left a typed note in an envelope with threats and telling me to clean up or I would go to jail for murder. They said if I went to cops [ sic ], they would kill Tiffany [Bowen] and her family." He described removing the bodies, cleaning up the house, including the blood on the driveway, consistent with what his neighbor Jerry Kuhn observed. He also wrote that on the Monday night after the killings, he drove the car with the bodies to the high school, poured gasoline in the trunk and inside the car and set it on fire. Elsewhere, he suggested it would " look[] better" and deflect suspicion from him if someone--" X" --went back to his parents' residence and got " caught in the act of something. Weather [ sic ] it be M. [(murder?)] or steal[ing]. ... Someone could call pigs [ sic ] and tell them X is there and is going to finish the job. X could say he missed gramps."

Defendant also proposed a possible alibi for himself for the night the murders occurred. " How about this. Sunday night I was with a girl from 7:30 pm on til 7:30 am Monday when she dropped me off at my house. She picked

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me up the night before at my house in a blue four door car. The only thing is who was this girl, where did you meet her, why didn't you say anything about it before ... . [¶ ] [(1)] Who --I don't know, find someone who will say they were the girl? [¶ ] [(2)] Where --I met her at the station getting gas. [¶ ] [(3)] Why --Because I didn't want my old lady to find out. [¶ ] What --Well like I said I couldn't let my old lady find out."

Jill Roberson testified she knew defendant before he was arrested and had corresponded with him in jail. She testified she was going to claim defendant was with her the night of the murders. She said the false alibi was her idea. After some equivocation, she testified that, ...

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