By Nancy Martinez and Juan Garcia Urrutia
LOS ANGELES – On April 2, 2020, the Supreme Court of California affirmed the decision of the trial court in the case against James Michael Fayed. The trial court denied his application for a modification to the verdict in this capital case, and the automatic appeal went to the CA Supreme Court.
Fayed was sentenced to death for the murder of his estranged wife, Pamela Fayed, back in 2008. James and Pamela were undergoing a divorce that could have ended in the division of assets of their internet company, Goldfinger Coin & Bullion, that provided gold and money transferring services. Fayed contracted with several individuals to murder his wife. The defendant appealed the conviction on several grounds. The Los Angeles County Superior Court denied the automatic application and the California Supreme Court reviewed and affirmed their judgment.
Fayed argued that the prosecution’s use of a recorded jailhouse statement with a fellow inmate violated his Sixth Amendment right to counsel, his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable detention and his rights under the Sixth Amendment’s confrontation clause.
While under federal custody for a money licensing violation, Fayed was recorded enlisting a hit man to murder Moya, whom he had hired to murder his wife, by Moya’s cellmate Smith, who was recruited by the LAPD to wear a wire and acquire any information about the murder of Pamela.
Fayed claims that state and federal prosecutors were working together to hold him in federal custody while state prosecutors investigated the murder case. Furthermore, Fayed argued that Smith was working as a government agent and, as such, any information gained through Smith was inadmissible.
The court dismissed this claim under the grounds that the Sixth Amendment’s right to counsel does not apply until after prosecutors have charged a defendant. The court states that because the recording was obtained during the investigation of the murder and not after Fayed had been charged, the recording is admissible.
The Supreme Court also dismissed Fayed’s Fifth Amendment claims. The court acknowledged that Fayed did invoke his right to remain silent when taken into federal custody. However, because there was a break in custody between the arrest of Pamela’s murder on July 28 and the September 10 recording, the invocation to remain silent no longer remained in force.
Furthermore, the court held that because Fayed made the recorded statements outside of a “police dominated atmosphere” and was not compelled to make the incriminating statements, his claims do not stand.
Fayed’s Fourth Amendment claims to unreasonable detention were also denied because the court found that Fayed failed to demonstrate that the remedy for being unreasonably detained would be to suppress the confession he made while in federal custody.
The Supreme Court also dismissed any claims to violations of the Sixth Amendment’s right to confrontation. Fayed argued that because Smith was not put on the witness stand and consequently not cross-examined by the defense, the recorded tape would be hearsay and therefore inadmissible.
The court rejected this claim by highlighting that Smith’s conversation with Fayed was not being used as a statement of facts but rather the confession that came about through that conversation. The court further reiterated the prosecution’s statement that “it wouldn’t matter who was in the cell next to [Fayed] … it is his words that are being used against him.”
Next, the Supreme Court dismissed any claim of jury misconduct by acknowledging that, although there were allegations of jury misconduct, the trial court’s inquiry and conclusion that the claim was non-credible was sufficient and so did not abuse its discretion to deny Fayed a motion for a new trial.
The Court also found that Fayed’s claims to instructional errors were not valid and therefore the jury’s final judgment stands.
California’s Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s denial of the defendant’s argument that his Fourth Amendment right to be free from search and seizure was violated when his cell phone, telephone conversations, and laptop were collected via an issued warrant without probable cause.
Fayed challenged the initial search of his cell phone on July 29, 2008, which led detectives to confirm his cell phone number was illicit. The court found that the search of the cell phone was unlawful, however, the evidence that was obtained from the search was admitted as evidence “under the exception of inevitable discovery.”
In addition, the defendant’s attempt to “quash” the search warrant issued on July 31, 2008, was denied and affirmed due to the possible evidence of motive that Pamela’s daughter had indicated was inside the Fayed residence.
The Supreme Court of California additionally affirmed the denial of the defense’s evidentiary claims.
Fayed’s evidentiary claim that evidence of his federal indictment of operating an unlicensed money-transmitting business should not be admitted as evidence in the case of his wife’s murder was denied on the grounds that the federal indictment provided a possible motive for the crime. The prosecution’s argument that the defendant murdered his wife to stop her from testifying against him in the federal indictment was not challenged by the Supreme Court of California.
Admissibility objections of evidence—witness testimony, recorded conversations, photographs of the victim’s body and bloody clothing—were also denied and affirmed by the Court.
A third-party culpability defense was denied due to statements that could have aided the defense being submitted years after the trial. This delay in submitting evidentiary statements of a third party caused the evidence to be inadmissible to the defense.
During the jury trial in 2011, the jury found the special circumstance of the defendant murdering his wife for financial gain to be true. The defendant argued that the prosecution was unable to prove that Moya was the killer of Pamela, and in return was unable to establish that the defendant was acting for financial gain. This argument was denied and sufficient evidence was found to support the jury’s ruling.
The lying-in-wait special circumstance allegation was also found to be true by the jury. The defendant argued on appeal that this allegation was improper. The Supreme Court rejected this claim and concluded that the jury’s finding was supported by the defendant’s “own intent and his own significant actions in masterminding the killing of Pamela.”
The defense further objected to the death sentence on the argument that the prosecution committed misconduct that included misstated law, improper prosecution closing arguments, and referencing evidence that was unsupported by the record.
The Court affirmed the denial of these objections by quoting People v. Dennis: “‘The [prosecutor’s] misstatements, although bearing a potential for prejudice, were not so extreme or so divorced from the record that they could not have been cured by prompt objections and admonitions.’ ”
During the penalty phase of People v. Fayed, the defendant objected to several evidentiary rulings including the admission of a letter written by the victim’s daughter, photographs of the victim’s gravesite, and a prosecution hearsay objection of a defense witness testimony regarding the perceived affection Fayed had for Pamela. These appeals were also denied and the decision affirmed by the Supreme Court of California.
The defendant lastly appealed the verdict on the argument of prosecutorial misconduct at the penalty phase. The defense alleged that prosecutorial misconduct occurred by the improper appeal to the passion and prejudice of the jury and arguing facts not in evidence during the prosecution’s closing arguments. In addition, the defense argued that there was cumulative error and conflict of interest that caused the defendant to suffer from prejudice.
These arguments were all denied because of the lack of persuasion that any prosecutorial errors may have caused the jury to reach a different verdict.
The defense’s challenges were all rejected and the Los Angeles County Superior Court’s decision was entirely affirmed.
James Michael Fayed’s death penalty sentence stands for the murder of his wife, Pamela Fayed, and he remains at San Quentin State Prison.
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