A scheduled hearing on the constitutionality of SB 1437 in front of Judge Sonia Cortés suddenly became easy when the judge noted the rulings of the 4th District Appellate Court on Gooden and Lamoureux, and Deputy DA Melinda Aiello acknowledged that these rulings were binding on the court.
She noted that the court has no choice but to rule that the law is constitutional – the question, she said, is where we go from there.
From the perspective of the DA’s office, they asked for a continuance. They want to determine whether they will writ the lower court ruling to challenge it in the 3rd District Appellate Court in order to hope that that court issues a different ruling from the 4th. Already the 3rd has agreed to hear the Davidson case.
Ron Johnson, representing the Petitioner David Baker, indicated that there is a considerable question of competency – which was an issue even at the time of the trial.
Mr. Baker was found guilty of first degree murder and also found sane at the time of the commission of the crime.
The case dates back to Christmas of 1979 – 40 years ago this month. A witness was driving a pickup near Winters when he saw what he thought was a woman chasing a man. The man was identified as Arthur Haynen and the woman turned out to be the petitioner, Mr. Baker.
Mr. Haynen described that he was being robbed and that they were taking his money. He had been stabbed in the back and stomach. He was stabbed by another man, Tom Francis. Mr. Haynen died that evening.
Mr. Francis and Mr. Baker were arrested in Arizona after Mr. Baker “was found to be in possession of a folding knife and a Francis had a knife sheath on his belt.”
Mr. Francis’ hunting knife “was found in the driver’s side door of the vehicle during a subsequent search. Also found in the vehicle was a handwritten note that read, ‘if he sits in the back, he’s safer to hit.’”
During trial, an expert testified that the note was written by Mr. Baker.
Mr. Baker gave various accounts as to what happened. For instance, leading up to the trial, during visits with his mother that were recorded, “various statements were made to his mother indicating he had participated in the homicide, and that the decedent had a knife that he was swinging at Francis.”
On the other hand, “Mr. Baker made various statements to mental health professionals regarding his culpability in the homicide that ranged from self-defense to a complete denial of involvement in the actual homicide.”
Mr. Baker, according to the court filings, “suffered from mental illness from a young age and was hospitalized up until shortly before the homicide. He was interviewed by several mental health professionals and a competency trial was conducted prior to the trial in this case. During the trial, Mr. Baker was removed for portions of the trial as he could not control himself from speaking out and interrupting the proceedings.”
Under SB 1437, effect on January 1, 2019, “a defendant may no longer be convicted of murder based on the natural and probable consequences doctrine or, absent certain exceptions, based on the felony murder doctrine for non-killers.”
In the Baker case, the jury was “instructed on the liability of aiders and abettors and conspirators to felony murder.” Here the target offense was robbery.
The prosecution at trial “argued alternative theories of liability, either that Mr. Baker was the direct perpetrator of the homicide or that he was not the actual killer but directly aided and abetted the crime of Robbery and that the murder was committed while he was engaged in the crime of robbery.”
Moreover, during closing arguments, the prosecutor argued that “Mr. Baker was a direct aider and abettor to the crime of robbery and that the killing was done in furtherance of the robbery.”
In closing they argued: “It does not matter whether it’s planned. It does not matter whether you intend to kill. It matters that you intend to do the felony, robbery, and a killing occurs during the time that you are doing the robbery.
“It’s first degree if it’s murder during the commission of a robbery … regardless of who inflicted the fatal wound.,” they added, “You are going to ask yourself, I’m sure, who inflicted the fatal wound with what knife. I’m going to tell you later that, based on the law and the facts as I see it, it doesn’t make any difference.”
Mr. Johnson in his petition, argues, “A petitioner in these circumstances does not carry the burden of demonstrating that his conviction was based on [an incorrect theory]. Rather, once he has shown that the jury was instructed on correct and incorrect theories of liability, the presumption is that the error affected the judgment.”
Based on this, Mr. Johnson argues that the court should find that a “prima facie case has been made” and therefore Mr. Baker is eligible under SB 1437 for relief and re-sentencing.
The interesting issue, as Mr. Johnson pointed out, would be competency. There were questions 40 years ago and Mr. Johnson indicated his communications with Mr. Baker suggest a continuing problem.
Judge Cortés set the matter for January 9 and noted that despite changes to the judicial assignments she will continue to handle this matter.
—David M. Greenwald reporting