Supreme Court of California Justia
Docket No. S132256
People v. Helzer

Plaintiff and Respondent,
Defendant and Appellant.
Contra Costa County Superior Court
January 22, 2024
Chief Justice Guerrero authored the opinion of the Court, in
which Justices Corrigan, Liu, Kruger, Groban, Jenkins, and
Evans concurred.

Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
Defendant Glen Taylor Helzer pleaded guilty to five
counts of murder (Pen. Code, § 187)1 and admitted associated
special circumstances as follows: the murders of Ivan and
Annette Stineman, with robbery and kidnapping special
circumstances (§ 190.2, subd. (a)(17)(i), (ii)); the murder of
Selina Bishop, with the special circumstance of murder to
prevent testimony (§ 190.2, subd. (a)(10)); and the murders of
Jennifer Villarin and James Gamble, with a multiple-murder
special circumstance for Gamble’s murder (§ 190.2, subd. (a)(3)).
Defendant also pleaded guilty to conspiracy (§ 182, subd. (a)(1));
two counts of kidnapping (§ 209); extortion (§§ 518, 520); three
counts of robbery (§§ 211, 212.5, subd. (a)); three counts of
burglary (§§ 459, 460); attempted robbery (§§ 211, 212.5,
subd. (a), 664); false imprisonment (§§ 236, 237); and possession
of a controlled substance for sale (Health & Saf. Code, § 11378).
He also admitted a weapons enhancement (§ 12022, subd. (b)(1)
connected with the burglary, robbery, and false imprisonment
counts. Following a penalty trial, a jury returned a verdict of
death for the five counts of murder and the court imposed a
judgment of death. Defendant also received sentences of life
imprisonment without the possibility of parole for the
kidnapping counts, 25 years to life for the conspiracy count, and
All undesignated statutory references are to the Penal
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
additional determinate sentences for the remaining counts.
This appeal is automatic. (§ 1239, subd. (b).) We affirm the
Defendant, his brother Justin Helzer,2 and their friend
Dawn Godman were charged as codefendants in the kidnapping
and murders of Ivan and Annette Stineman and the murders of
Selina Bishop, Bishop’s mother, Jennifer Villarin, and Villarin’s
friend James Gamble. Godman subsequently pleaded guilty to
18 counts in exchange for her agreement to testify against
defendant and Justin. After the trial court denied the brothers’
motions for separate trials, defendant pleaded guilty to all
charges and received a penalty phase trial.3
A. Prosecution Evidence
1. Defendant’s Background
The prosecution presented evidence at the penalty phase
regarding defendant’s life before he committed the charged
crimes. This evidence covered defendant’s experience with the
Mormon faith and his excommunication; his work as a financial
advisor, which was how he met the Stinemans; his drug abuse;
and moneymaking schemes, with the crimes in this case
resulting from one of those schemes.
We refer to defendant’s brother by his first name to avoid
Justin pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. After
defendant entered his guilty pleas, the trial court severed the
proceedings and Justin was tried before defendant’s penalty
phase trial occurred. A jury found Justin guilty of all charges
and legally sane, and sentenced him to death.
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
a. The Mormon Church
Defendant was raised in the Mormon church and practiced
this religion into adulthood. A former Mormon bishop testified
regarding his understanding of the Mormon faith. Among other
tenets, he described the belief that individuals can receive
revelations from God, communicate with spirits, and become a
god. A woman who attended church with Godman also provided
testimony regarding Mormon beliefs, including the view that
certain men were prophets of God.
Defendant began to disagree with the direction of the
church’s principles and spoke of getting messages from “Spirit.”
He told others that killing is sanctioned if it is God’s will, and
cited passages from the Bible and Book of Mormon for support.
He believed there was no right or wrong, and that all people had
the potential to become gods. Defendant believed he was close
to becoming a god. He also believed he was a prophet and he
held meetings in the church parking lot with Justin.
Sometime in 1999 or 2000, defendant spoke at a church
event about taking a hiatus from the Mormon church. His
appearance was “striking” — he had long, dark hair and facial
hair, wore peculiar glasses, and wore a long black trench coat.
He was eventually excommunicated from the church.
b. Financial work
In 1992, defendant began working as a financial advisor
trainee at a Morgan Stanley branch in Concord. A stockbroker
at the firm described defendant as “a good, clean Mormon kid”
who was “happy-go-lucky” when he joined the team. Defendant
had many clients, including the Stinemans who were retired
and financially well off. Defendant developed a friendly
relationship with the Stinemans and frequently visited their
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
home to help with their finances. The Stinemans spoke fondly
of defendant.
In 1996, after defendant got married and shortly after the
birth of his first daughter, he began to change. Defendant
started smoking, staying out late at night clubs, and going into
work late. Clients began complaining to defendant’s manager
that he was not returning their phone calls. Defendant told his
manager that he did not believe his actions would impact his life
or his career, and when he was through having fun, he would
come back to work and function as a financial advisor and a
Defendant left the firm in 1998. He told several people
that he was faking a psychiatric illness and had himself declared
legally insane to collect disability payments and avoid legal
punishment. Defendant had to visit doctors to confirm the
existence of a disability. In preparation for the visits, he would
deliberately not shower or shave and would practice how to act
in front of the doctors. Defendant was formally terminated from
the firm in 1999.
c. Drug use and moneymaking schemes
Between 1996 and the time he was arrested, defendant
used marijuana, Ecstasy, and methamphetamine. He also made
methamphetamine in his garage and sold Ecstasy at raves.
Defendant met Godman at a church event in late 1997.
They had extensive conversations about defendant’s philosophy
of living one’s life in alignment with God; Godman accepted
these principles as true. She believed that defendant and Jesus
Christ were brothers, and that defendant was a prophet of God.
In February 2000, Godman joined defendant in selling drugs.
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
In 1998, defendant met Keri Mendoza. She thought
defendant was “full of life and love.” They began a romantic
relationship and she eventually moved in with defendant and
Justin. Defendant introduced her to Ecstasy about one month
after she moved in. During the course of their relationship,
Mendoza provided the primary source of income for herself and
defendant. She also loaned defendant money. Despite this,
defendant was in significant debt. He wanted to be “set for life”
and had several illicit moneymaking ideas to try to make that
In late 1998 or early 1999, defendant proposed several
escort schemes. Many involved throwing parties where men
could pay to get into the party and then have their choice of the
women in the room. Another scheme involved tricking young
stockbrokers into having sex with underage girls and then
blackmailing the stockbrokers’ company for money. None of
these schemes came to fruition.
At some point in 1998, defendant came up with the idea of
“Transform America.” The idea was to create an organization of
people who were committed to bring Harmony, a self-help
program he had previously attended, to the world. The plan
required an “inner core” of three people — defendant plus two
others who had to earn his trust and be loyal to him. Lina
Richardson, who met defendant at a Harmony training, testified
that one example of the kind of trust and loyalty defendant
wanted was if he killed someone and brought the body home, a
person would cut up and hide the body without asking a single
question. The inner core was originally defendant, Justin, and
Mendoza. After defendant and Mendoza ended their
relationship around December 1999, Godman became the third
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
person. In March or April 2000, defendant, Justin, and Godman
moved into a house located on Saddlewood Court in Concord.
Around the time they moved to this house, defendant came
up with a plan called “Children of Thunder.” The plan was to
extort money from one of defendant’s past clients to fund
Transform America and bring about the second coming of Jesus
Christ peacefully. Defendant believed that the second coming
would be preceded by darkness and apostasy, and to avoid the
darkness, he would sacrifice a few to save billions. According to
Godman, defendant planned to “take one of [his] past clients . . .
and extort them for their money that was in their [brokerage]
account, to kill them and to have another individual take —
deposit the money in another individual’s account, and then
have that individual withdraw the money and give it to
[defendant].” The individual withdrawing the money would also
be killed. The Saddlewood house in Concord was going to be the
base of operations for the first step of this scheme.
2. Circumstances of the Crimes
Defendant identified former clients of his who maintained
a brokerage portfolio of at least $100,000. Justin purchased a
Beretta nine-millimeter semiautomatic firearm and defendant
removed the serial number from his own .22-caliber
semiautomatic pistol.
Defendant, Justin, and Godman thought of ideas for how
to dispose of the bodies. One involved getting dogs from a
shelter and having the dogs eat the bodies. They adopted three
dogs for this purpose. They gave the dogs large amounts of
animal meat and bones to see how much they could eat;
defendant determined they could not eat enough to consume
three people. Defendant, Justin, and Godman decided instead
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
to dismember the bodies, put the pieces in duffel bags, and use
a Jet Ski to dump the bags out on the Sacramento-San Joaquin
Delta (Delta). They purchased tools and supplies to implement
the plan, including a reciprocating saw, a skill saw, water
gloves, ski masks, a briefcase, duffel bags, handcuffs, and leg
Around May 2000, defendant began dating Selina Bishop.
Defendant’s intention was to have Bishop deposit money from
the Children of Thunder scheme and then kill her. Defendant
told her that he was going to be inheriting $125,000. He asked
Bishop if she would be willing to open new bank accounts and
deposit $25,000 in each account, then transfer the money to
defendant in $20,000 increments. In exchange for helping him,
Bishop could keep the remaining $5,000 from each increment.
Defendant, Justin, and Godman thought about,
considered, refined, and prayed about this scheme for at least
three months before selecting July 30, 2000 as the date to act on
their plan. In early July, they scouted the residences of each
person on defendant’s list of former clients, and defendant put
them in order of who to attack first. A corporate airline pilot
was at the top of the list. The pilot had the most money in his
brokerage accounts, was single, and lived in a location with easy
access that was somewhat isolated from his neighbors. The
Stinemans were second on defendant’s list.
Godman testified that on the early morning of July 30, she
gathered with defendant and Justin to declare war on Satan by
openly stating their intent to follow through with what they
believed was God’s will. Defendant attempted to establish an
alibi by asking a friend to buy four movie tickets for later that
day and then go to a restaurant and buy enough food for four
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
people. Defendant was concerned that the friend followed
through with the alibi and called to make sure everything went
as planned.
Around noon, Godman bought a bottle of wine.
Defendant’s plan was to go to the pilot’s house with Justin, and
say he was with a new company and had just made a lot of
money. Defendant would say that the wine was for a new
customer down the road, but they did not want the bottle.
Defendant would ask the pilot to join him in a drink to celebrate.
If he had guests, defendant thought they could kidnap and kill
up to five people to avoid leaving any witnesses. If more than
five people were present, defendant and Justin would “find a
way out” of the house.
That night, defendant and Justin drove to the pilot’s house
in defendant’s car while Godman followed in Justin’s truck.
They knocked on the door, but no one answered. They moved on
to the next people on the list, the Stinemans. Defendant and
Justin parked away from the Stinemans’ house while Godman
parked Justin’s truck down the street to keep an eye on the
house and look out for police. Defendant and Justin walked up
to the Stinemans’ house wearing business suits. Defendant
carried a briefcase containing handcuffs, a gun, a blowtorch to
use for threatening, a Taser gun, and a cell phone. Ivan
answered the door and both men entered the home.
Approximately one hour later, defendant drove to Godman
in the Stinemans’ white van. Godman saw the silhouettes of
four people in the van. Defendant said, “I got it,” and drove
away. Godman likewise drove back to the Concord house.
Back at the house, defendant questioned Ivan while
Godman questioned Annette, in separate rooms, about their
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
plans for the next few days. When they all reconvened,
defendant explained to the Stinemans that he had money
trouble and they would need to stay with him until he got the
money out of their accounts. While the Stinemans slept,
defendant, Justin, and Godman took methamphetamine to stay
awake and went over plans on how to take money out of the
Stinemans’ accounts.
The following morning, on July 31, Godman called Morgan
Stanley pretending to be Annette, and directed the branch
manager to liquidate the Stinemans’ account. Defendant then
had Ivan cancel appointments for the next few days and call
family members to say they were taking a short vacation.
Defendant forced the couple to make out checks totaling
$100,000 to Selina Bishop.
Defendant gave the Stinemans a drug that was supposed
to kill them, but the drug did not work as planned. Defendant
and Justin carried Ivan and Annette into the bathroom.
Defendant put a plastic bag over Annette’s face and Justin put
a bag over Ivan’s face to suffocate them. When that did not
work, defendant started banging Annette’s head on the
bathroom floor. Justin started doing the same to Ivan.
Defendant placed Annette partially inside the bathtub, slit her
throat with a knife, and turned her over so the blood flow would
suffocate her. The Stinemans eventually died; Annette from the
suffocation and Ivan from the beating. Godman watched while
the Stinemans were murdered.
Godman changed her clothes and wrote a $10,000 check
that she signed with Annette’s name. She drove to the
Stinemans’ bank and deposited the check into Ivan’s account
“[t]o distract the police.” Godman used a wheelchair in an
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
attempt to disguise herself. When she returned to the
Saddlewood house, she observed several black plastic bags
containing the Stinemans’ body parts.
The following day, on August 1, Godman tried to deposit
the Stinemans’ checks into Bishop’s bank account. The branch
manager tried to contact the Stinemans to confirm the
transaction and left a message on their machine. Later that day,
defendant and Godman drove to the Stinemans’ house to
retrieve the answering machine tape and other identifying
information; they had already taken the Stinemans’ social
security cards the night of the kidnapping. Godman called
Bishop’s bank, pretending to be Annette, and left a message for
the branch manager with the Stinemans’ social security
numbers. She explained that they were visiting their sick
granddaughter, Bishop, and they needed the money deposited
The following afternoon, on August 2, Bishop visited the
Saddlewood house. While defendant distracted Bishop in the
living room, Justin came up beside them and hit Bishop over the
head with a hammer several times. Defendant and Justin took
Bishop into the bathroom where defendant then cut her throat
with a hunting knife. After watching Bishop die, Godman went
into the living room to clean the carpet. Godman could hear a
saw running in the bathroom. Defendant and Godman burned
Bishop’s possessions in the fireplace, as they had already done
with the Stinemans’ clothing and belongings. While the fire was
burning, defendant wanted to see if one of their dogs would eat
human flesh. He fed the dog two small pieces of Bishop’s skin.
Defendant realized that Bishop’s mother, Jennifer
Villarin, could identify him. Early the next morning, on
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
August 3, defendant and Godman drove to Bishop’s apartment
in Woodacre, California, where Villarin was staying. Defendant
found Villarin and Gamble asleep. He shot Villarin twice in the
face. Gamble managed to exit the bed before defendant shot him
through the chest.
Back at the Saddlewood house, defendant decided they
needed to remove the Stinemans’ and Bishop’s teeth to prevent
their identification. Later that day, defendant, Godman, and
Justin drove to the Delta with the remains of the three victims
and a rented Jet Ski in tow. Defendant and Justin loaded the
bags of remains on the Jet Ski, took them into the water to
discard the bags, and then returned for more. They repeated
this process several times, with Godman joining Justin for the
last trip. They returned to the Saddlewood house once finished.
Defendant, who had plans to leave on a trip, left Justin
and Godman a list of things to do, including cleaning the house
and returning the Jet Ski. Justin and Godman also disposed of
several incriminating items. Justin and Godman tried to clean
the carpet themselves but eventually decided to hire
professional cleaners. The cleaners cleaned the carpet on
August 6, leaving behind industrial-sized fans to dry the carpet.
Defendant returned from his trip that afternoon.
3. The Investigation
On August 3, the Stinemans’ daughter went to their
house. She had been unable to contact them for four days and
was concerned. After noticing several things that looked awry
in the house, she feared her parents were missing and called the
police. Concord police officers responded and began to
investigate the couple’s disappearance.
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
Meanwhile, Marin County Sheriff’s deputies responded to
a call at Bishop’s apartment. They found Villarin’s and
Gamble’s bodies, both with gunshot wounds. Emergency
medical personnel arrived and declared both victims dead.
Marin County Sheriff’s Detective Steve Nash obtained and
served a search warrant that morning for the Woodacre
residence where Villarin’s and Gamble’s bodies were found.
An autopsy revealed the cause of Villarin’s death was two
gunshot wounds to the head. Gamble’s cause of death was a
gunshot wound to the upper chest. He suffered five gunshot
In an effort to find Bishop during the investigation,
Detective Nash learned that she was dating a man who lived
with his brother in Concord. Detective Nash recovered Bishop’s
pager from the café where she worked and traced a phone
number on it to Justin. Phone records for Justin led Detective
Nash to the Saddlewood Court address in Concord; Detective
Nash soon learned that defendant also lived at that address. He
also learned that Justin had recently purchased a gun
consistent with the weapon used to kill Villarin and Gamble.
Detective Nash obtained a search warrant for the Saddlewood
Around 4:00 a.m. on August 7, 2000, Marin County officers
and Concord SWAT team members assembled in anticipation of
serving the warrant approximately two hours later. After
officers entered the residence, defendant tried to flee out a back
window but officers stopped him. While a detective
subsequently interviewed defendant in the back of a patrol car,
he threw himself out of the partially open window and ran off.
He ran into a neighbor’s house and threatened to kill the
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
resident if he did not give defendant his keys. When defendant
saw the resident’s dogs running toward him, he fled from the
house and ran into another neighboring home, this time
threatening the resident with a knife to obtain a change of
clothes and keys to her car. The resident’s son called the police,
who arrived and detained defendant when he ran out of the
The search of the Saddlewood premises, which ultimately
involved the execution of multiple search warrants, revealed a
substantial amount of evidence implicating defendant, Justin,
and Godman in the crimes. Meanwhile, nine gym bags
containing the victims’ remains were recovered from the Delta,
each weighed down with stepping stones from the Saddlewood
premises or rocks from the Delta. Inside the gym bags, the large
body parts and removed organs were individually wrapped in
black plastic bags.
The pathologist who performed the autopsies testified
about the condition of the Stinemans’ and Bishop’s remains. In
addition to being dismembered, the bodies showed signs of
stabbing and blunt force trauma that occurred before death and
significant mutilation after death, including removal of internal
organs, jaws, and teeth.
4. Victim Impact Evidence
The Stinemans’ two adult daughters testified about their
family life, the trusting relationship their parents had with
defendant, and their grief. A friend of the Stinemans, a friend
of Villarin, several members of Villarin’s and Bishop’s family,
and Gamble’s mother also testified about their memories of the
victims and the pain of their loss.
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
B. Defense Evidence
1. Background Evidence
The defense presented evidence of mental illness in
defendant’s family, his involvement in the Mormon church
growing up, and his kind and energetic nature.
Several witnesses testified about defendant’s mission for
the church in Brazil, and his return. A fellow missionary
described that defendant was excited, passionate, and
hardworking when they first arrived in Brazil. Defendant
related well to people and was readily accepted. Defendant had
“some interesting ideas” about the end of the world, and they
discussed the end of the world and the second coming of Christ.
He believed that during the apocalypse, church leaders would
become warrior prophets who would lead their people and
“defend their faith as a warrior of sorts.” Defendant believed he
would become one of the warrior prophets.
Defendant grew increasingly frustrated with the mission
president and other church leaders. If church leaders wrote
something that defendant disagreed with, he claimed that he
knew more than them and did not have to be accountable to
them. Toward the end of his mission, defendant held beliefs that
were “totally incompatible with the scriptures and Mormon
doctrine.” When defendant returned from Brazil, his views on
scripture began to change and he started to believe that the
church “was going in the wrong direction.” He appeared
exhausted and depressed.
Approximately one month after returning from his
mission, in December 1991, defendant ran into a former
classmate, Ann, and persuaded her to join the church. They
began dating after she was baptized into the church and got
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
married in April 1993. Ann’s uncle worked for Morgan Stanley
and set up interviews for defendant; he began working there one
week before the wedding. Ann testified that before they got
married, defendant had been very sheltered within the church
and did not have a realistic view of the world.
After defendant married and moved out of his parents’
house, he discovered cable television and junk food. Their first
daughter was born in the summer of 1995. Defendant and Ann
separated around one year later. Defendant felt his life had
been sheltered and he wanted to discover life outside of the
church, including drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, and
having a nonmonogamous lifestyle. Their second daughter was
born in 1998. Ann noticed “significant” changes in defendant’s
behavior and appearance after the birth of their second
daughter. When they had met, he was “really neat, really clean,
pretty meticulous about his appearance, clean cut.” In 1998, he
started wearing dark and wrinkled clothing, grew his hair out,
and looked as if he stopped showering. He stopped working for
Morgan Stanley the same year, though Ann did not find out he
left his job until 1999. Defendant was excommunicated from the
church around the same time he left his job in 1998.
Defendant’s sister left for her mission in 1995 and
returned in early 1997. Upon her return, she noticed “severe
changes” in defendant. He had “thrown away his religion” and
had been experimenting with smoking and drugs. In 1999,
during a visit home, defendant seemed angry and his
appearance was “scraggly.” Defendant started fights with his
sister because he thought she was rejecting his philosophical
and religious ideas.
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
2. Expert Evidence
Clinical psychologist Richard Foster met defendant in
1995 for counseling. Defendant and his wife had a “discrepancy”
in their sexual desires which created tensions in their marriage,
and Dr. Foster sought to help defendant work through their
issues. Defendant believed that he was “entitled” to have “a wife
whose sexual behavior is like what he witnesses in pornographic
films.” He also felt like he “was pretty much able to make
happen whatever he wanted to happen,” and grew frustrated he
could not make his wife do what he wanted. During Dr. Foster’s
second meeting with defendant, he presented the doctor with a
“highly detailed plan” that was “infused with a lot of narcissism”
to find an ideal woman who would have sex with him daily.
During their final meeting, defendant was “convinced that the
only way to avoid his misery was to leave his wife.” Dr. Foster
did not diagnose defendant based on their few meetings but
later opined that defendant’s behavior was consistent with
Psychologist Jeffrey Kaye testified that he met defendant
in early September 1998. Dr. Kaye ran an Intensive Outpatient
Program (IOP) at a health care facility, which involved multiple
group therapy sessions on a weekly basis to try to reduce the
number of hospitalized patients. The patients in the program
were typically diagnosed with bipolar disorder, major
depression, schizophrenia, or posttraumatic stress disorder.
Defendant came to the program because he was upset and not
able to function in his job. During their first meeting, Dr. Kaye
believed defendant was in a manic phase. Defendant
complained that he could not concentrate, was irritable and
inappropriately angry, and believed people were judging him.
Dr. Kaye diagnosed defendant with bipolar disorder, and a
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
psychiatrist on the program’s staff prescribed medications.
After defendant stopped attending meetings, Dr. Kaye reached
out via telephone and described defendant as paranoid,
isolating, and refusing to take his medications. Defendant often
spoke about conversing with spirits.
Defendant returned to treatment two weeks after
Dr. Kaye’s phone call. At a meeting in late November, Dr. Kaye
believed defendant’s mood swings had worsened and
recommended he voluntarily hospitalize himself, but defendant
declined. At a meeting in December, defendant appeared to be
experiencing a panic attack. In January, defendant showed up
at the clinic dressed “very bizarrely,” looking like “some kind of
strange cartoon character.” In February 1999, defendant was
involuntarily hospitalized for psychiatric treatment. When
Dr. Kaye saw defendant again in March, he had improved. At
various times, they had discussed how defendant could get
disability payments.
Psychologist Douglas Tucker specialized in addiction. He
spoke with defendant once for three hours before testifying on
his behalf. Prior to meeting with defendant, Dr. Tucker
reviewed defendant’s IOP records and his psychiatric
hospitalization records. He diagnosed defendant with
schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type. This meant defendant
exhibited schizophrenic features, such as hallucinations and
delusions, at times when he was not manic or depressed.
Dr. Tucker further diagnosed defendant with smoked
methamphetamine dependence. The doctor testified that
defendant believed he was hearing God’s voice, and that taking
medication interfered with his ability to communicate with God.
Defendant further believed he was “not actually a human being;
that he is a manifestation of God’s consciousness that is an
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
illusion, and has the illusion of being an individual, but is
actually a fragment of a larger whole, which has this illusion of
individuality in order that it might distinguish good from evil
and find . . . its way towards God.” When discussing defendant’s
drug abuse, Dr. Tucker explained that “a grandiose delusion or
religious delusion that you’re God gets heightened quite a bit
when you use a stimulant drug like methamphetamine, so it’s
actually rewarding for the person to feel that their
communication with God is that much better.” Dr. Tucker
opined that it is difficult to fake mental illness, especially mania.
He believed defendant had a genuine mental illness because his
symptoms were consistent.
Psychiatrist John Chamberlain interviewed defendant
seven times and concluded that defendant suffered from
schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type; methamphetamine
dependence; cannabis dependence; and alcohol abuse. He
testified that defendant “manifested significant grandiosity.” At
times defendant was “wrestling with the concept” of whether he
was becoming a divine being and spoke of himself, God, and
Jesus as if “they were sort of brethren on the same path in
development or that he was somehow of God.” When
Dr. Chamberlain would ask defendant a question or to slow
down when discussing his religious beliefs, defendant would get
irritable at the distraction from his own thoughts.
Dr. Chamberlain did not believe that defendant was
malingering a mental illness.
Detective Nash obtained and executed two Marin County
Superior Court search warrants for the Saddlewood premises in
Concord. Detective Nash also assisted the Concord Police
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Department in obtaining and executing a third search warrant
for the Saddlewood premises, issued by the Contra Costa County
Superior Court. Before trial, defendant and his codefendants
filed a motion to suppress evidence seized pursuant to these
Defendant now raises a blanket suppression argument on
appeal. He asserts that the officers who executed the Marin
County warrants acted in flagrant disregard of the constraints
imposed by the warrants by conducting what defendant
characterizes as a general search of the Saddlewood premises.
He contends that as a result of this claimed violation of his
Fourth Amendment rights, all evidence seized pursuant to the
execution of the Marin County warrants, as well as evidence
subsequently obtained as purported “fruits” of these seizures,
must be suppressed, and he must be entitled to withdraw his
guilty plea and be tried on any remaining evidence. We reject
defendant’s claims and conclude blanket suppression of the
evidence is not warranted.
A. Trial Court Proceedings
On November 19, 2002, Godman filed an “Omnibus Notice
of Motion and Motion to Suppress Evidence and Traverse
Various Search Warrants.”
Godman challenged the three searches of the Saddlewood
premises on a variety of grounds. As relevant here, Godman
argued that both Marin County Superior Court warrants were
issued without probable cause, were overbroad, and were based
on material misrepresentations and information unlawfully
obtained during prior unlawful searches. She argued that the
second Marin County Superior Court warrant further exceeded
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the scope of the court’s jurisdiction, and the items seized under
the authority of the warrant were outside its scope.
The court began hearings on the motion on January 31,
2003. Regarding the initial search of the Saddlewood premises,
the trial court found no error in the magistrate’s determination
that probable cause existed in issuing the search warrant. The
court explained, “I believe, based upon what was before the
magistrate in Marin, that there was a fair probability that
evidence regarding the Woodacre murders could be found at
Saddlewood Court in Concord.” The court found that there were
no material misrepresentations made, and the affidavit did not
contain statements that were deliberately false or made with a
reckless disregard for the truth.
Regarding the second search warrant issued for the
Saddlewood premises by the Marin County Superior Court, as
relevant here, Godman argued the search exceeded the scope of
the warrant and that once officers were inside the premises,
they seized items with “virtually no limits on the extent and
scope” of the search. Godman further argued that officers
collected evidence related to the Stinemans that fell outside the
scope of the Marin County warrant. Godman also asserted that
the Marin County magistrate did not have authority to issue a
warrant to seize evidence relating to the Stinemans. The
prosecution responded that by the time evidence related to the
Stinemans was seized on August 7, it had become “patently
obvious” that the Marin County investigation (for Villarin and
Gamble) and the Contra Costa County investigation (for the
Stinemans) “were inseparable and were inextricably
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
The trial court concluded the Marin County magistrate
had jurisdiction to issue the second warrant for Saddlewood,
noting that the Woodacre murders of Villarin and Gamble were
unsolved at the time it was issued, Bishop was still missing, and
there was enough information to conclude that evidence of the
murders and disappearance would be found in the Saddlewood
premises. The court concluded that even if the magistrate
exceeded her jurisdiction, the good faith exception articulated in
United States v. Leon (1984) 468 U.S. 897 salvaged the search
and seizure. The court further concluded that probable cause
existed, the warrant was not a general warrant, and the search
did not exceed the scope of the warrant.
Regarding the warrant issued by the Contra Costa
Superior Court, the trial court rejected the defense’s argument
that it was the fruit of the previous searches. Yet the court
acknowledged that without knowing additional details, some of
the items in the return — “Halloween-type costumes, kitchen
items and home decorations” — could have been beyond the
scope of the warrant. The court delayed ruling on whether this
search exceeded the scope of the warrant and withdrew its
previous ruling on whether the search exceeded the scope of the
second Marin County Superior Court warrant.
The court held another hearing on February 21, 2003. The
prosecution argued that the defendants had the burden to prove
which seized items, if any, fell outside the scope of the search
warrants. The prosecution also advised that the evidence room
at the police station was open for counsel to go through the
evidence that had been collected. Noting that trial was
scheduled to begin in September, the court set a new hearing in
June to give the parties time to sort through the evidence.
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
At some point after the February hearing, Godman’s
counsel filed a supplemental pleading with a list of the
challenged items; defendant joined the pleading. The list
included items seized pursuant to both Marin County search
The parties returned on June 13, 2003. At that hearing,
the defense argued that all the seized evidence had to be
suppressed because of the officers’ “flagrant disregard” for the
terms of the warrants during the execution of the searches. The
court reminded the defense that it had instructed counsel, if
they wanted, to be more specific with which items they thought
were outside the scope of the warrants. Defense counsel
acknowledged the court’s request, and explained that it was
basing its argument on a different point — namely, that “it
doesn’t matter if the few items that we parse today are found to
be outside the scope of the warrant[.] . . . [T]he search was so
flagrant in exceeding the terms of the warrants . . . that all
evidence must be suppressed. And that goes to volume more
than it does to now parsing particular items.” The prosecution
responded that the officers had probable cause to seize every
item retrieved from the Saddlewood premises.
After discussing the challenges involved in having the
court review the entire universe of seized documents, the court
proposed that it instead address the challenged items first.
Godman contended that going through the items labeled indicia
would be the defense’s “biggest problem” because some items
grouped together and described as a “single item” actually
contained multiple documents — some that “probably” qualified
as indicia of the crimes and others that were outside the scope
of the warrant. The prosecution argued that the seizures could
be upheld by reference to the warrant, the plain view doctrine,
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
and the inevitable discovery rule. The parties then discussed
some of the specific items challenged in Godman’s motion. The
prosecutor argued that the search warrants permitted the
officers to “go virtually anywhere into any box inside the house”
and they had the authorization to seize “not only indicia” but
also trace evidence. The court also noted that once information
about the dismembered bodies came to light, and there was
evidence that the bodies had been sawed, the officers had
probable cause to seize items relating to the saw and the
condition of the bodies.
After discussing some individual items, the court asked
the prosecution to respond to each item challenged in Godman’s
pleading with a justification for the seizure. The prosecution
agreed and offered to have both primary investigating officers
B. Testimony Regarding the Warrants
Another hearing took place two weeks later on June 27,
2003. At that hearing, witnesses testified regarding the
procurement and execution of search warrants for the
Saddlewood premises.
Detective Nash testified first. He explained that he
became involved with the Villarin and Gamble murders on
August 3, 2000, and secured a warrant for the Saddlewood
premises on the morning of August 7. As additional information
appeared, Detective Nash obtained a second search warrant
later that day and then provided an oral affidavit in support of
a third warrant requested by the Concord Police Department
that same evening.
The first search warrant that Detective Nash obtained
authorized a search of the Saddlewood premises and two
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
identified vehicles, and specifically listed eight categories of
items to be searched for: (1) a nine-millimeter semiautomatic
handgun; (2) nine-millimeter fully copper-jacketed ammunition;
(3) expended nine-millimeter cartridges; (4) receipts and
documents related to nine-millimeter handguns and
ammunition; (5) a light-colored woman’s T-shirt or other short-
sleeved shirt with small flowers; (6) dark or possibly black pants
or jeans; (7) “[i]ndicia of ownership, including but not limited to
leasing documents, Department of Motor Vehicles documents
indicating ownership of the vehicle, letters, credit card gas
receipts, keys and warranties”; and (8) “[i]ndicia of occupancy or
ownership; articles of personal property tending to establish the
identity of persons in control of the said premises, storage areas
or containers where the above items are found consisting of rent
receipts, cancelled checks, telephone records, utility company
records, charge card receipts, cancelled mail, keys and
warranties.” Detective Nash and other officers served the
warrant at 6:00 a.m. on August 7, 2000.
Detective Nash and the Marin County Sheriff’s Office
worked together with the Concord Police Department to execute
the warrant. The agencies held a briefing prior to the initial
entry and then, starting on August 8, held joint briefings at least
twice daily. Detective Nash oversaw and coordinated crime
scene processing and supervised the collection of evidence.
Detective Nash testified that he made a conscientious effort to
seize only items specifically listed in the search warrant or items
that the officers believed they had probable cause to seize as the
fruits or instrumentalities of the crime under investigation.
Upon initial entry on August 7, Detective Nash did a
cursory examination of the entire premises. He saw two carpet
dryers and noticed that the carpets had been recently cleaned.
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
Detective Nash also noticed staining on the carpet that
appeared consistent with blood or another biological substance.
After less than one hour, he left the house to secure a second
warrant for the Saddlewood premises and the two vehicles.
Meanwhile, the remaining officers continued to search the
premises under the authority of the first warrant. When officers
located an item that they believed had evidentiary value, “[t]hey
would stop and then . . . come take a look at it, determine if it
was possibly going to be seized or not seized.” If they did not
believe an item was needed, then it was not seized. With seized
items, the officers photographed the item, packaged it, and then
placed it in a U-Haul truck. If the item contained blood or
otherwise could not be left in the truck, it was immediately
taken to Marin County.
Detective Nash returned with the second Marin County
warrant for the premises at 1:00 p.m. that afternoon. The
warrant identified 13 categories of items: (1) forensic evidence;
(2) carpet from the house; (3) blood and objects with apparent
blood on them; (4) any object with human tissue, bone, or hair
on it; (5) a man’s long-sleeve striped shirt that had been
removed from a garbage can in the Saddlewood garage; (6) a pair
of men’s low-cut work boots with small dark stains, removed
from a garbage can in the Saddlewood garage; (7) a pair of latex
gloves removed from a garbage can in the Saddlewood garage;
(8) access to the house and vehicles by officers and other
personnel for the purpose of investigating the death and/or
disappearance of Selina Bishop; (9) “[i]tems of identification
which might tend to establish the identity of persons who might
have been within the premises to be searched”; (10) diaries,
journals, lists, photographs, audio or video recordings, and any
other materials setting forth or expressing threats, anger, or
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
violence toward the victims; (11) all electronic storage devices
capable of storing electronic data; (12) indicia of ownership of
the vehicles; and (13) “[i]ndicia of occupancy or ownership;
articles of personal property tending to establish the identity of
persons in control of the said premises, storage areas or
containers where the above items are found consisting of rent
receipts, cancelled checks, telephone records, utility company
records, charge card receipts, cancelled mail, keys and
Upon his return to the premises, Detective Nash held a
briefing with the officers and provided them with copies of the
second warrant so they could determine what fell within the
scope of the warrant. A deputy district attorney arrived on the
scene around the same time, along with Concord police officers,
because “someone saw something related to [the] Stinemans and
was aware that they were a missing couple and that’s when
[they] started making some links at that point.”
In the late afternoon or evening of August 7, Detective
Nash and his team became aware that body parts had been
recovered in gym bags in the Delta. The officers believed the
remains may have belonged to the Stinemans and Bishop. On
the evening of August 7, Detective Nash assisted the Concord
Police Department in obtaining a search warrant from the
Contra Costa County Superior Court. This warrant authorized
a search of the Saddlewood premises for 15 categories of items:
(1) various pieces of property stolen from the Stineman
residence, including financial documents, a missing answering
machine tape, and Social Security cards; (2) two men’s suits;
(3) lime green women’s clothing; (4) women’s tan driving gloves;
(5) a gold-colored cowboy hat, receipt for such a hat, or a photo
of such a hat; (6) receipts for purchase or rental of a wheelchair;
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
(7) handwriting and/or handprint exemplars for defendant,
Justin, and Godman; (8) documentation of names and account
information of persons who had accounts with Morgan Stanley;
(9) “[d]ocumentation, such as letters, notes, diaries, journals,
etc., which tend to prove a connection between Selina Bishop
and [defendant], and any documentation which tends to show
the nature of that relationship”; (10) latex gloves; (11) hair dye;
(12) forensic testing; (13) “[a]ny item which would tend to show
where Mr. and Mrs. Stineman are, including any documents or
items showing travel from or within the Bay Area”; (14) latent
print testing; and (15) any footwear with a waffle-type pattern
on the sole. The warrant was executed beginning on the
morning of August 8.
On August 10 or 11, Detective Nash and the officers
became aware that the cut marks in the bones suggested the use
of a power reciprocating saw. More details about the condition
of the bodies, and the Jet Ski rental, were discovered over the
following few days. Officers were still actively searching the
Saddlewood premises pursuant to the warrants at the time.
When asked about the seizure of receipts at the
Saddlewood premises, Detective Nash explained that even if a
receipt does not contain the name of the purchaser, officers
consider that item indicia of occupancy because “we track people
all the time . . . by receipts to identify who made the purchases.”
Pursuant to the second search warrant, officers seized a bathtub
after it showed a positive reaction for the presence of blood.
They seized floorboards from the house for the same reason.
When defense counsel questioned why officers seized certain
items — like posters of dragons — not specifically identified in
that warrant, Detective Nash explained that officers seized
evidence of “witchcraft and occult type activities” that were
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
found “in plain view” after they learned that the organs had
been removed from the victims. The officers also seized a poster
depicting a marijuana leaf because they believed it showed drug
usage at the residence and is “kind of a gateway drug that people
that use higher level of drugs will start.”
Detective Steve Chiabotti of the Concord Police
Department also testified at the hearing. Detective Chiabotti
testified that he was the lead detective for the Concord
investigation into the Stinemans’ disappearance and
participated in obtaining the third Saddlewood search warrant.
He and his team held daily briefings with the Marin County
officers to discuss developing information and share what
evidence had been collected. When asked at the hearing
whether he used a guideline to distinguish between items to be
seized and those not to be seized, Detective Chiabotti replied
that in his mind, “anything that was related to instrumentality
of the crimes that [they] were investigating, evidence that would
tend to show who committed the crimes, how the crimes were
committed, evidence which went to state of mind rather,
planning, preparation,” was subject to seizure.
Marin County officers ended their search of the
Saddlewood premises on August 15, eight days after serving the
first search warrant. Concord officers relinquished control of
the premises around August 22.
On July 25, 2003, the trial court denied the motions to
suppress. The court found that the detectives were credible
witnesses, and that they had a right to search the entire house
and look for trace evidence, which allowed them to look
“virtually in every nook and cranny” of the premises. The court
found that every seized item was either within the scope of the
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
warrant or within plain view and incriminating in nature. The
court further ruled that any item that might have been outside
of the Marin County warrants would have been inevitably
discovered during execution of the Contra Costa County
C. Discussion
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution
protects individuals against unreasonable searches and seizures
by government officials. “The warrant clause of the Fourth
Amendment expressly provides that no warrant may issue
except those ‘particularly describing the place to be searched,
and the persons or things to be seized.’ ” (People v. Bradford
(1997) 15 Cal.4th 1229, 1291 (Bradford).) “ ‘General
warrants,’ ” which involve “ ‘ “a general, exploratory rummaging
in a person’s belongings,” ’ ” are prohibited by the Fourth
Amendment. (Bradford, at p. 1291.) But “in a complex case
resting upon the piecing together of ‘many bits of evidence,’ the
warrant properly may be more generalized than would be the
case in a more simplified case resting upon more direct
evidence.” (Ibid.) “Even if the warrant is legally sufficient”
insofar as it is based on probable cause and describes with
sufficient particularity the place to be searched or the person or
things to be seized, the search may still be “unreasonable” when
“it results in the seizure of property which was not specifically
described in the warrant and is unrelated to probable criminal
activity.” (People v. Cook (1978) 22 Cal.3d 67, 98; see § 1538.5,
subd. (a)(1)(B)(ii), (iv) [a defendant may move to suppress
evidence when the search was pursuant to a warrant and, inter
alia, the “evidence obtained [was] not that described in the
warrant” or the method of execution of the warrant was
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
unlawful].)4 At the same time, “the mere fact a large number of
items were seized, many of which were not listed in the warrant,
does not establish that the search was an illegal general search.”
(People v. Kraft (2000) 23 Cal.4th 978, 1043 (Kraft).
“When reviewing a trial court’s denial of a motion to
suppress evidence obtained pursuant to a warrant, ‘[w]e defer to
the trial court’s factual findings, express or implied, where
supported by substantial evidence. In determining whether, on
the facts so found, the search or seizure was reasonable under
the Fourth Amendment, we exercise our independent
judgment.’ ” (People v. Carrington (2009) 47 Cal.4th 145, 166
(Carrington).) “In reviewing factual determinations for
substantial evidence, a reviewing court should ‘not reweigh the
evidence, evaluate the credibility of witnesses, or resolve
evidentiary conflicts.’ [Citation.] The determinations should ‘be
upheld if . . . supported by substantial evidence, even though
substantial evidence to the contrary also exists and the trial
court might have reached a different result had it believed other
evidence.’ ” (In re Caden C. (2021) 11 Cal.5th 614, 640.
“Accordingly, ‘[w]e view the evidence in a light most favorable to
the order denying the motion to suppress’ [citation], and ‘[a]ny
conflicts in the evidence are resolved in favor of the superior
court ruling.’ ” (People v. Tully (2012) 54 Cal.4th 952, 979; see
also People v. Johnson (2006) 38 Cal.4th 717, 723 [deferring to
trial court’s finding regarding officer’s purpose during search];
People v. Woods (1999) 21 Cal.4th 668, 673–674 [same].
“Pursuant to article I, section 28, of the California
Constitution, a trial court may exclude evidence under Penal
Code section 1538.5 only if exclusion is mandated by the federal
Constitution.” (People v. Banks (1993) 6 Cal.4th 926, 934.
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
Defendant concedes the warrants here satisfied the
particularity requirement and were supported by probable
cause. But in making his blanket suppression challenge, he
contends the officers exceeded the scope of the two Marin
County warrants during their search of the Saddlewood
premises.5 He asserts that, in executing these warrants, the
officers acted with flagrant disregard of the terms of the
warrants and used the term “indicia” to justify seizing items
they did not have probable cause to seize under the plain view
doctrine. As a consequence, defendant argues, the trial court
should have suppressed all evidence seized pursuant to these
warrants, as well as evidence subsequently obtained as “fruits”
of these seizures. Defendant further argues that the trial court’s
error in not granting the suppression motion means that
defendant must be allowed to withdraw the guilty pleas that he
entered after the trial court denied the motion to suppress.
In arguing that wholesale suppression is required here,
defendant relies on federal precedent finding such a remedy
appropriate in certain “ ‘extraordinary’ ” circumstances (U.S. v.
(10th Cir. 1996) 100 F.3d 846, 852 (Foster)) in which
Defendant bears the burden of proof on this issue. (See
Theodor v. Superior Court (1972) 8 Cal.3d 77, 101 [“In general,
the burden is on the defendant to raise the issue of illegally
obtained evidence”]; see also Levenson, Cal. Criminal Procedure
(The Rutter Group 2021) § 6:17, p. 6–19 [“If a warrant was used,
the search or seizure is presumed to be lawful, and the burden
of demonstrating that it was illegally executed remains with the
defendant” (fn. omitted)]; Caskey, Cal. Search & Seizure (2023
§ 3:1, p. 316 [“At the hearing on the motion to suppress, who has
the burden of proving the government did/did not violate the
fourth amendment? The burden of proof lies with the
prosecution if the search was without a search warrant; with the
defense if the search was pursuant to a search warrant”].
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
officers conducting a search exceeded the parameters of the
authorizing search warrant to such an extent as to render the
search a general one (ibid.; see also U.S. v. Uzenski (4th Cir.
2006) 434 F.3d 690, 706; U.S. v. Liu (2d Cir. 2000) 239 F.3d 138,
140; U.S. v. Chen (9th Cir. 1992) 979 F.2d 714, 716).
“Without passing upon the question ourselves, we
previously have acknowledged that a majority of the federal
circuits recognize the remedy of blanket suppression in a
sufficiently egregious case.” (Kraft, supra, 23 Cal.4th at p. 1044,
citing Bradford, supra, 15 Cal.4th at pp. 1304–1307.) But as we
explained, courts in these cases “rarely have actually concluded
that police conduct was so extreme as to warrant total
suppression. The remedy has been justified when the police
exceeded the ‘scope of the warrant in the places searched’
[citations], the police used the warrant as a pretext to search for
evidence of unrelated crimes [citation], or the police were
motivated ‘ “by a desire to engage in indiscriminate ‘fishing’ ” ’
rather than by ‘considerations of practicality’ [citation]. The
mere magnitude of the seizures does not establish a violation of
the federal Constitution.” (Bradford, at p. 1306, fn. omitted.
We again assume for argument’s sake that the remedy of
total suppression may be appropriate in extreme circumstances
of flagrant government misconduct. (Bradford, supra,
15 Cal.4th at p. 1306; Kraft, supra, 23 Cal.4th at p. 1044.) And
as in Bradford and Kraft, we conclude that the facts here do not
warrant this extreme remedy.
Defendant contends the officers deliberately disregarded
the terms of the warrants, effectively transforming them into
unconstitutional “general warrants.” According to defendant,
Detective Nash applied for a narrow, particularized warrant —
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
while withholding his true “investigative purpose” and his
subjective intent to seek a broad array of documents and
evidence relating to the Stinemans’ murder while executing the
warrants. We are not persuaded that the officers converted the
search into “ ‘ “a general, exploratory rummaging” ’ ” (Bradford,
supra, 15 Cal.4th at p. 1291) in executing the two search
warrants at issue here.
The search warrants were obtained in the context of a
complex, rapidly evolving investigation relating to two known
homicides and additional missing persons. By their plain terms,
the warrants authorized particularized but broad seizures,
allowing the officers to search all areas where they might find
specified firearms, ammunition, keys, receipts, documents, and
indicia of occupancy or ownership. (Kraft, supra, 23 Cal.4th at
p. 1043 [finding it permissible for officers to “look[] in a spot
where the specified evidence of crime plausibly could be found,
even if it was not a place where [the specific items] normally are
stored”]; People v. Diaz (1992) 3 Cal.4th 495, 563 [where search
warrant authorized police officers to search for notes,
memoranda, and other documents, officers properly “looked in
places where they might expect to find the documents listed in
the search warrant in the event defendant had attempted to
hide them or throw them away; those places included trash
receptacles and a bedroom closet”]; Skelton v. Superior Court
(1969) 1 Cal.3d 144, 158 [“Since the warrant mandated a search
for and seizure of several small and easily secreted items, the
officers had the authority to conduct an intensive search of the
entire house, looking into any places where they might
reasonably expect such items to be hidden”].) Under these
circumstances, the officers did not exceed the scope of the
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
warrant in the places searched. (Bradford, supra, 15 Cal.4th at
p. 1306.
The record also belies defendant’s claim that Detective
Nash, or any of the other officers, used the warrants “as a
pretext to search for evidence of unrelated crimes” (Bradford,
supra, 15 Cal.4th at p. 1306). On the contrary, the trial court
credited Detective Nash’s testimony that they made a
conscientious effort to seize only those items of evidence either
listed in the warrants or those they had probable cause to seize.
Detective Nash carefully supervised the collection of evidence
and, along with other involved agencies, held regular briefings
both prior to the initial entry of the premises and at least twice
daily thereafter. The detective’s actions do not demonstrate an
effort to engage in a pretextual search or conceal relevant
information from the magistrate who issued the warrants.
When additional information was obtained following the
detective’s initial entry, revealing a carpet stain consistent with
blood and efforts to conceal this evidence, the detective left the
house after less than one hour to secure a second warrant
allowing for the seizure of forensic evidence. He then made
copies of the second warrant for the other investigating officers
performing the search. The fact that Detective Nash’s affidavit
in support of the second warrant does not mention the
Stinemans does not support defendant’s claim of pretext or
flagrant disregard; it is unsurprising given the evolving
investigation that was unfolding.6
As noted ante, members of the district attorney’s office and
Concord police officers arrived at the Saddlewood premises after
Detective Nash obtained the second search warrant. They
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
We also are not persuaded by defendant’s efforts to show
that “the police were motivated ‘ “by a desire to engage in
indiscriminate ‘fishing’ ” ’ rather than by ‘considerations of
practicality’ ” (Bradford, supra, 15 Cal.4th at p. 1306). As in
Bradford, the sequence of events we have already recounted
here “does not demonstrate that the officers had not been briefed
or prepared as to the objects of the search [citation], or that their
search amounted to a ‘fishing expedition.’ [Citation.] Nor was
the behavior of the officers so unconscionable as to amount to a
due process violation.” (Id. at pp. 1306–1307.) And defendant’s
reliance on the “numerosity and . . . bulk” of the items seized is
unavailing. (See Kraft, supra, 23 Cal.4th at p. 1043 [“the mere
fact a large number of items were seized, many of which were
not listed in the warrant, does not establish that the search was
an illegal general search”]; Bradford, at p. 1296 [rejecting the
defendant’s argument that “because the officers seized more
items not named in the warrant than items named, this
circumstance establishes the exploratory nature of the
“started making some links at that point” but did not become
aware that body parts had been recovered in gym bags in the
Delta until the late afternoon or evening of August 7. Believing
that the remains may have belonged to the Stinemans and
Bishop, on the evening of August 7, Detective Nash assisted the
Concord Police Department in obtaining a search warrant from
the Contra Costa County Superior Court. This third warrant,
not challenged here, specifically mentioned evidence relating to
the Stinemans’ murders. The warrant was executed beginning
on the morning of August 8.
Defendant repeatedly objects to Detective Nash’s
treatment of the “indicia” language in the warrants, contending
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
In addition to noting the substantial amount of material
seized from the Saddlewood premises, defendant mentions
certain items — the seizure of eyeglasses, a day planner, posters
depicting a marijuana leaf and fantasy themes,8 items perceived
to be connected to witchcraft, and various receipts — as
purportedly indicative of a general search. But some of these
items could reasonably be regarded as falling within the
warrant descriptions authorizing the seizure of indicia of
occupancy or ownership, or as “[i]tems of identification which
might tend to establish the identity of persons who might have
been within the premises to be searched” — a broad description,
the detective seized whatever evidence he wanted “without
regard to how that term was defined in [the] warrants.”
According to defendant, the “Marin detectives were not guided
by their warrants description of indicia, but by their own
standard operating procedures.” The detectives never testified
that their standard practice was to ignore the terms of the
warrants. As noted, Detective Nash instead explained they
endeavored to seize items within the scope of the warrants, and
the trial court found the testifying detectives to be credible.
Even assuming additional evidence was obtained, blanket
suppression is not an appropriate remedy here. As in Bradford,
in light of the totality of the record before us, we are not
persuaded that the detectives’ conduct rises to the level of
flagrant disregard that might justify defendant’s request to
suppress all evidence seized incident to the execution of a
warrant. (See Bradford, supra, 15 Cal.4th at p. 1306 [“The
officers may have entertained the hope that evidence pertaining
to unrelated crimes also would be discovered, but it is very
apparent that the search was not simply a pretext for a general
search for evidence of unrelated crimes”].
These posters were described by the defense in
proceedings below as featuring dragons, “Valhalla warriors
w[ith] axes [and] sword in fight,” a “Skeleton — Grateful Dead
type,” and “a Wonder Woman type.”
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
but one that officers were entitled to rely upon. (See
Messerschmidt v. Millender (2012) 565 U.S. 535, 547–548;
People v. Balint (2006) 138 Cal.App.4th 200, 207 [“As many
courts have observed, ‘officers executing a search warrant are
“required to interpret it,” and they are “not obliged to interpret
it narrowly” ’ ”]; People v. Howard (1976) 55 Cal.App.3d 373, 376
[upholding the seizure of currency under a warrant provision
describing “ ‘articles of personal property tending to establish
the identification of person or persons having dominion or
control’ of the premises”].) In his testimony at the suppression
hearing, for example, Detective Nash explained that officers
seized the eyeglasses as indicia of who had been present in the
residence. At some point in the investigation, he testified, police
determined that the victims wore glasses, and they determined
“it[ was] possible that [the glasses they found during the search]
were the victims’ glasses.” Similarly, Detective Nash testified
that police frequently use receipts to determine occupancy of a
home, and that even when receipts do not contain the name of a
purchaser, police “track people all the time by . . . receipts.”9
Insofar as there is any question whether certain indicia of
occupancy were properly seized under the first warrant for the
Saddlewood premises, given the specific phrasing of its
provisions relating to indicia of occupancy or ownership of the
premises, it seems clear that these items would have been
inevitably seized under the terms of the second warrant
concerning “[i]tems of identification which might tend to
establish the identity of persons who might have been within
the premises to be searched.” The circumstances presented here
do not reflect that either the decision to procure this warrant, or
the inclusion of this language in the warrant, was tainted by any
illegal conduct by law enforcement. (See Nix v. Williams (1984
467 U.S. 431, 444; People v. Carpenter (1999) 21 Cal.4th 1016,
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
We also agree with the Attorney General that defendant’s
argument largely overlooks the significance of the plain view
doctrine. “Officers executing a warrant may seize items of
evidence or contraband not listed in the warrant but observed in
plain view.” (Carrington, supra, 47 Cal.4th at p. 166.) “The
plain view doctrine does not create an independent ‘exception’ to
the warrant clause, but simply is an extension of whatever may
be the prior justification for the officers’ ‘access to an object.’
[Citation.] The officers lawfully must be in a position from
which they can view a particular area; it must be immediately
apparent to them that the items they are observing may be
evidence of a crime, contraband, or otherwise subject to lawful
seizure, and the officers must have a lawful right of access to the
object.” (Bradford, supra, 15 Cal.4th at p. 1295.
There is substantial evidence supporting the trial court’s
determination that seizures of items not specifically described
in the warrant were nonetheless appropriate under the plain
view doctrine, and did not reflect a general, indiscriminate
search of the premises. Detective Nash testified that seizures
were made in light of “[t]he entire picture of what [they] were
getting as [they] were getting it and whether it was related to
this series of murders and financial stuff.” He further explained:
“So we wouldn’t just arbitrarily say yeah, that’s related. We
would actually have information at some point in there that we
felt that it was related to the series of crimes.” And Detective
Nash responded in the affirmative when asked whether he had
1040 [“Evidence need not be suppressed if the prosecution can
establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the
information would inevitably have been discovered by lawful
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
made “every effort to try to seize only those items that were
either specifically listed in the search warrant or items which
[he] believed there was probable cause to believe constituted the
fruits [or] instrumentality of the crime.” Similarly, Detective
Chiabotti testified that the evidence that was seized at the
premises “related to instrumentality of the crimes [they] were
investigating, evidence that would tend to show who committed
the crimes, how the crimes were committed, evidence which
went to state of mind . . . , planning, preparation.”
There also is ample support for the trial court’s
determination that the seizure of various items in plain view did
not involve officers searching in places that the warrants did not
allow. (See Kraft, supra, 23 Cal.4th at p. 1043 [in properly
executing a warrant, “officers merely looked in a spot where the
specified evidence of crime plausibly could be found, even if it
was not a place where [such items] normally are stored”]; People
v. Alcala
(1992) 4 Cal.4th 742, 799; People v. Nicolaus (1991
54 Cal.3d 551, 575.) And it would have been immediately
apparent to officers conducting this search that many seized
“items might have had some bearing on the current offenses”
(Bradford, supra, 15 Cal.4th at p. 1306), whether as relating to
motive or to other relevant circumstances of the crimes under
investigation. (See, e.g., Warden, Maryland Penitentiary v.
(1967) 387 U.S. 294, 307 [“probable cause must be
examined in terms of cause to believe that the evidence sought
will aid in a particular apprehension or conviction”]; People v.
(2002) 96 Cal.App.4th 612, 623 [“the required ‘nexus’ ”
for application of the plain view doctrine “is that between the
item discovered and a criminal activity, though not necessarily
the criminal activity denominated in the warrant”]; U.S. v.
(3d Cir. 1994) 24 F.3d 550, 562 [“the immediate
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
apparency of criminality should be measured, at a minimum, by
the collective knowledge of the officers on the scene”].
We pause here to emphasize the limited inquiry before us.
The issue before us is not whether the officers properly seized
every specific item of evidence (such as the posters or evidence
of witchcraft) under the two challenged warrants.10 Rather, the
question here is whether the unusual remedy of blanket
suppression of all seized evidence should be applied. A review
of the entire record before us and the totality of the officers’
conduct does not reveal the kind of flagrant disregard of Fourth
Amendment protections that might justify the extraordinary
remedy of wholesale suppression of all seized evidence.
Defendant’s arguments resemble the claims we considered and
rejected in Kraft, where the defendant “vaguely assert[ed], ‘It is
not any single item that presents the problem, but the overall
array of items taken and the failure to present any substantial
reason for seizing many items that highlights the overall legal
problem.’ ” (Kraft, supra, 23 Cal.4th at pp. 1049–1050.) This
court found that the argument was so lacking in specificity that
it “virtually defies review,” and that defendant’s argument that
the People bear the burden to justify the seizure of items in plain
view is contrary to the established rule that “on appeal[,] all
presumptions favor the judgment.” (Id. at p. 1050.
The cases defendant relies upon to support his request for
wholesale suppression involved substantially more egregious
Even if defendant had developed an argument on appeal
challenging individual seizures, it is at the very least doubtful
that the items mentioned in his briefing likely affected his
decision to plead guilty. (Cf. People v. Hill (1974) 12 Cal.3d 731,
767, fn. 36 [noting the relevance and incriminating nature of the
items at issue in that case].
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
conduct by the executing officers. (See, e.g., Foster, supra,
100 F.3d at pp. 850–851 [complete suppression appropriate
where officers executing search warrant engaged in “fishing
expedition for the discovery of incriminating evidence,”
admittedly “ ‘took anything of [monetary] value,’ ” and made “no
attempt . . . to substantiate a connection” between items seized
and the terms of the warrant in a “deliberate and flagrant action
taken in an effort to uncover evidence of additional
wrongdoing”]; U.S. v. Rettig (9th Cir. 1978) 589 F.2d 418, 421–
423 [complete suppression ordered where the warrant that the
officers obtained from one magistrate “was used as an
instrument for conducting the search for which permission had
been denied [by a different magistrate] on the previous day” and
“the agents did not confine their search in good faith to the
objects of the warrant”].) Also inapt is U.S. v. Sedaghaty (9th
Cir. 2013) 728 F.3d 885, in which officers procured a warrant
authorizing the seizure of documents relating to the preparation
of a tax return, but ultimately seized a large volume of
documents relating to a charity formed by the defendant which
the United States government suspected of funding terrorist
activities. (Id. at pp. 891, 912.) The federal appellate court
determined that these seizures could not be justified by
reference to the warrant or its affidavit. (Id. at pp. 912–913.
This determination, which is not binding upon us, is in any
event distinguishable. The warrants here were far broader than
the warrants involved in Sedaghaty, and that court did not
discuss the possible application of the plain view doctrine or the
exclusionary rule to the facts before it — except to hold that
complete suppression of all seized evidence was unwarranted.
(Id. at p. 915.) Neither that decision, nor any other authorities
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
cited by defendant, provides persuasive support for his position
that total suppression is appropriate here.11
In sum, we assume for argument’s sake that the remedy
of total suppression may be appropriate in extreme
circumstances of flagrant government misconduct. Even so, we
conclude defendant has not shown the drastic remedy of
suppression of all evidence is warranted here. He has not
demonstrated that the executing officers grossly exceeded or
flagrantly disregarded the terms of the warrants at issue. Even
assuming some of the items seized were not identified in the
search warrants, this does not transform an otherwise valid
search warrant into an unconstitutional general warrant. The
behavior of the officers, the conditions under which the evidence
was obtained, and the nature of the evidence seized — whether
viewed individually or collectively — does not convince us that
this extreme remedy is warranted.
A. Jury Selection
Defendant contends the trial court improperly excused a
potential juror, and that it erred when it denied his request to
Defendant also likens the situation here to the dog sniff of
the exterior of a residence that the United States Supreme
Court in Florida v. Jardines (2013) 569 U.S. 1, 11–12 found to
constitute a “search” under the Fourth Amendment. He reasons
that in both that case and here, law enforcement exceeded their
“license” vis-à-vis the premises in question. We do not view the
analysis in Jardines, which was concerned with the threshold
Fourth Amendment question of whether a search occurred, as
especially relevant to the quite different question of whether the
officers here so exceeded the authorization conferred by the
search warrants as to potentially call for complete suppression.
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
ask prospective jurors a question regarding the impact that
certain evidence might have on their assessment of the
appropriate sentence. We find defendant’s arguments
1. Excusal of Prospective Juror
a. Factual background
Defendant asserts the trial court’s removal of prospective
juror J.W. based on her views regarding the death penalty
violated his federal constitutional right to due process and an
impartial jury.
In her written questionnaire, when asked to describe her
general feelings regarding life in prison without the possibility
of parole, prospective juror J.W. wrote, “I believe it would be a
terrible sentence to receive.” When asked to describe her
general feelings regarding the death penalty, J.W. wrote, “I’m
not sure that I believe in the death penalty.” She opined that
the death penalty was imposed “too often.” When asked if she
would be willing to listen to all of the evidence and the court’s
instructions on the law, and give honest consideration to both
life in prison without the possibility of parole and death before
reaching a penalty, J.W. answered “Yes,” adding, “I think?” In
response to another similarly worded question, J.W. again
answered “Yes” and added, “Hopefully.” When asked if she had
opinions that would cause her to never vote for the death
penalty, regardless of the evidence presented at the penalty
trial, she answered “No.” J.W. indicated that she was
“[m]oderately against” the death penalty, explaining: “I think I
lean toward being against the death penalty. I’m just not sure
what I would decide.” When asked if it would be difficult for her
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
to apply the law if the court’s instructions on the law differed
from her own beliefs and opinions, J.W. checked “Yes.”
During voir dire, the trial court noted J.W.’s answer that
it might be difficult for her to disregard her own beliefs to follow
the court’s instructions and asked her how she felt about that.
She replied, “Still I think it would be difficult.” The court asked
if she would be able to follow the law even though it would be
difficult. J.W. replied that she “really believe[d] in the system
that we have” and thought she could follow the law. The court
noted that some time had passed since J.W. filled out her
questionnaire and asked if she still believed she could consider
both penalties equally. J.W. replied, “I thought about it, you
know, I have to say that if I had to vote on the death penalty I
would vote against it. That being said, could I just — don’t know
what I would do.”
During the prosecutor’s voir dire, he first spoke to the
group of prospective jurors, noting that some people indicated
they were inclined to be against the death penalty, but could still
vote for it in an appropriate case. He then spoke to J.W., stating,
“[Y]ou said a couple things — ‘I’m not sure I believe in the death
penalty.’ Another point you said something like, ‘I’m inclined to
be against it’ or something like that, that’s kind of the sentiment
you expressed here this afternoon. [¶] And it also sounds like
you’ve thought about it a little bit between when you came in
here three weeks ago and today; is that a fair characterization?”
J.W. confirmed it was fair. The prosecution asked her if she
would be able to follow the law as instructed. J.W. explained,
“I’m thinking that I would like to say that I would, you know,
you just don’t know until the time comes, you know, what you’re
going to [do].” The prosecutor explained that the law never
requires a juror to impose the death penalty, and that jurors are
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
not expected to abandon their “morality or . . . belief structure”
while deliberating. He asked J.W., “If what I’m saying here is
accurate, that you do bring your own sense of morality
and . . . who you are as a human being to bear on this case,
would you agree that it would be very difficult, if not impossible
for you, given your belief structure, to ever impose the death
penalty?” J.W. opined that there was a one percent chance,
based on her moral beliefs, that she would be able to impose the
death penalty. When the prosecution sought to clarify this
answer by asking whether that meant that 99 out of 100 times
J.W. would not vote for death, based on her moral or
philosophical beliefs about the death penalty, J.W. responded in
the affirmative.
When defense counsel began her voir dire, she told J.W.
that it appeared the prospective juror had “strong reservations
about the imposition of the death penalty,” and J.W. agreed.
When counsel asked if J.W. could see herself imposing the death
penalty in an appropriate case, J.W. said, “I couldn’t see myself.”
Counsel then asked if the prospective juror would consider
death as an option during deliberations. J.W. replied, “I just
don’t know what I would do. [¶] . . . [¶] But I sincerely doubt
that I would.” Defense counsel asked J.W. if she felt like she
would keep an open mind, to which J.W. answered, “I like to
think I would.” But when counsel again asked if J.W. could
impose the death penalty in “the appropriate case,” the
prospective juror said, “I doubt it. [¶] . . . [¶] I just don’t know.”
The prosecution challenged J.W. for cause. Defense
counsel submitted the issue without argument. The trial court
sustained the challenge: “I do believe that [J.W.] has a bias
against the death penalty such that I think she said in one
percent she might have been thinking — considering it, but in
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
all reasonable likelihood, not very likely. I will excuse [J.W.] for
b. Discussion
“[N]ot all who oppose the death penalty are subject to
removal for cause in capital cases; those who firmly believe that
the death penalty is unjust may nevertheless serve as jurors in
capital cases so long as they state clearly that they are willing
to temporarily set aside their own beliefs in deference to the rule
of law.” (Lockhart v. McCree (1986) 476 U.S. 162, 176
(Lockhart); see People v. Riccardi (2012) 54 Cal.4th 758, 778.
To determine whether a prospective juror should be excluded for
cause because of his or her views on the death penalty, we
inquire “whether the juror’s views would ‘prevent or
substantially impair the performance of his duties as a juror in
accordance with his instructions and his oath.’ ” (Wainwright v.
(1985) 469 U.S. 412, 424 (Witt); see Witherspoon v. Illinois
(1968) 391 U.S. 510.) A prospective juror’s bias need not be
proven with “ ‘unmistakable clarity.’ ” (Witt, at p. 424.) We
recognize that many prospective jurors “simply cannot be asked
enough questions to reach the point where their bias has been
made ‘unmistakably clear’ . . . [and] may not know how they will
react when faced with imposing the death sentence, or may be
unable to articulate, or may wish to hide their true feelings.”
(Id. at pp. 424–425.
Recognizing that the prospective juror’s demeanor is an
important consideration, we accord deference to the trial court
judge “who sees and hears the juror.” (Witt, supra, 469 U.S. at
p. 426; see People v. Flores (2020) 9 Cal.5th 371, 388 (Flores
[“The trial court was in the best position to observe [the
prospective juror’s] demeanor, vocal inflection, and other cues
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
not readily apparent on the record, and we reasonably infer that
the trial court based its decision not only on what [the
prospective juror] said, but also on how he said it”].) In
“situations where the trial court has had an opportunity to
observe the juror’s demeanor, we uphold the court’s decision to
excuse the juror so long as it is supported by substantial
evidence.” (People v. Spencer (2018) 5 Cal.5th 642, 659.
The trial court’s excusal of J.W. for cause is supported by
substantial evidence. As previously detailed, in her written
questionnaire, J.W. indicated that if the court’s instructions
conflicted with her beliefs, she would have difficulty applying
the law. Although some of J.W.’s answers also expressed a
willingness to listen to all of the evidence and jury instructions
and consider both penalty options, she also equivocated on this
point, adding “I think?” and “Hopefully” to these expressions of
intent. She also responded that she was “not sure” she believed
in the death penalty and believed it was imposed “[t]oo often.”
Later, during voir dire, J.W. told the court that she believed she
could follow the law but also advised that, after thinking about
it, “I have to say that if I had to vote on the death penalty I would
vote against it.” She then confirmed to the prosecutor that if the
court allowed jurors to use their moral compasses in making a
decision, her moral compass would be inconsistent with voting
for the death penalty, and she could impose it only one percent
of the time. Finally, J.W. agreed with defense counsel that even
in an “appropriate case,” she could not see herself voting for the
death penalty, and that she did not know but “sincerely
doubt[ed]” that she could consider death as an option. Upon
further probing by defense counsel, J.W. stated that although
she liked to think she would keep an open mind, she doubted, or
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
just did not know, whether she could vote to impose the death
penalty “in the appropriate case.”
This evidence is sufficient to support the trial court’s
excusal of J.W. as a potential juror. “Comments that a
prospective juror would have a ‘hard time’ or find it ‘very
difficult’ to vote for death reflect ‘a degree of equivocation’ that,
considered ‘with the juror’s . . . demeanor, can justify a trial
court’s conclusion . . . that the juror’s views would “ ‘prevent or
substantially impair the performance of his duties as a
juror . . . .’ ” ’ ” (People v. Duenas (2012) 55 Cal.4th 1, 12.) The
trial court, which was in a position to observe J.W. during voir
dire (Flores, supra, 9 Cal.5th at p. 388), reasonably could have
concluded that J.W.’s responses to the juror questionnaire and
to questions posed by the court and counsel established such
impairment. (See People v. Poore (2022) 13 Cal.5th 266, 297–
298 [according substantial deference to trial court’s evaluation
of prospective jurors’ expressions of doubt demonstrating
substantial impairment].
Defendant contends the trial court erred when it excused
J.W. because her estimation that she could vote for the death
penalty in one percent of cases confirmed her willingness to
engage in the weighing process and impose a death sentence if
she thought it was appropriate. But “the mere theoretical
possibility that a prospective juror might be able to reach a
verdict of death in some case does not necessarily render the
dismissal of the juror” erroneous. (People v. Martinez (2009
47 Cal.4th 399, 432.
Defendant also relies on People v. Pearson (2012
53 Cal.4th 306 (Pearson) in arguing that the trial court erred,
but his reliance is misplaced. In Pearson, prospective juror C.O.
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
noted in her questionnaire that she could be an impartial juror
and it would not be impossible for her to vote for or against the
death penalty in any one case. (Id. at p. 328.) During voir dire,
C.O. acknowledged that she did not know if she was personally
for or against the death penalty, but she could nonetheless vote
to impose the death penalty in an appropriate case. (Id. at
p. 329.) And she repeatedly confirmed that she would be able to
vote for the death penalty. (Id. at p. 330.) We concluded the
trial court erred in excusing C.O. for cause, noting that “[t]o
exclude from a capital jury all those who will not promise to
immovably embrace the death penalty in the case before them
unconstitutionally biases the selection process,” and a juror
should not be disqualified for failing to “enthusiastically support
capital punishment.” (Id. at p. 332.
Pearson is readily distinguishable from the present case.
Although C.O. was not expressly in favor of the death penalty,
she repeatedly affirmed she could be a fair and impartial juror,
weigh the evidence, and vote for the death penalty in an
appropriate case. (Pearson, supra, 53 Cal.4th at pp. 328–330.
Here, J.W. did not repeatedly affirm that she could be a fair and
impartial juror. Rather, she repeatedly expressed doubt
regarding her ability to impose the death penalty, even in an
“appropriate case.”12
In supplemental briefing, defendant asserts that People v.
Armstrong (2019) 6 Cal.5th 735 bolsters his claim that the trial
court erred when it excused J.W. for cause. In Armstrong, we
concluded that the trial court improperly excused at least four
jurors when it “applied an erroneous standard to the question of
qualification” and “relied on factual bases not supported by the
record.” (Id. at p. 751.) Neither circumstance is present here;
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
Therefore, we reject defendant’s claim of error in
connection with the trial court’s excusal of prospective juror
2. Denial of Voir Dire Question
a. Background
Defendant contends the trial court abused its discretion
when it denied his request to ask the prospective jurors whether
evidence of dismemberment would prevent them from imposing
a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
At a hearing to discuss voir dire, the prosecution objected
to two of the defense’s proposed questions. Question 133 asked,
“What purpose do you think the death penalty serves?”
Question 134 asked, “In what types of cases do you think the
death penalty should be imposed?” The prosecution argued that
the questions invited prospective jurors to prejudge the
evidence, and it would be “highly inappropriate” to invite the
jurors to speculate under which circumstances they think the
death penalty should be imposed. Justin’s counsel responded
that Question 134 would “save time” because “[i]t goes right to
the heart of a well-recognized challenge for cause . . . potential
jurors who would automatically impose the death penalty under
particular circumstances.” Defendant’s counsel offered to
as discussed, the trial court applied the correct standard of law
and the record supports its excusal of J.W. Relatedly, defendant
argues in his supplemental briefing that the trial court “fail[ed]
to comply with the Legislature’s clearly expressed limitation on
death qualification of California juries.” Defendant
acknowledges that we rejected a similar argument in a more
recent case, People v. Suarez (2020) 10 Cal.5th 116 (Suarez), and
he does not present any new argument to warrant our
reconsideration of the constitutionality of death qualification.
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
withdraw Question 133 but maintained that Question 134 was
The prosecution disagreed, arguing that “it is absolutely
inappropriate for counsel . . . to inquire of the jurors whether
they, if they were to assume true certain facts like, for instance,
dismembering of bodies, and in those circumstances would they
impose the death penalty, absolutely requires them to prejudge
the evidence, that is clearly an objectionable question. [¶] What
is not objectionable, what they can ask, what this questionnaire
does include, is inquiries into whether or not based upon the
special circumstances themselves would those alone be enough
or cause them to automatically vote for the death penalty in
every case, okay, we agree with that.” The prosecution further
argued that the question invited the jury to speculate on areas
where they would or would not impose the death penalty.
Justin’s counsel argued that Question 134 did not contain any
factual information related to the case, but rather, it asked the
prospective jurors, “[W]hat is your view? Do you think the death
penalty should . . . always be applied in some situations? What
are they?”
After a brief recess, the court turned to Question 135,
which asked: “Are there any circumstances where a person
convicted of murder should automatically receive the death
penalty?” The court offered an alternative phrasing: “Are there
any types of factual circumstance[s] for which you feel the death
penalty should always be imposed, if yes, please explain.” The
court concluded that it would not accept Questions 133 or 134,
but would allow Question 135 in either the proposed form or its
alternative suggestion.
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
At a hearing on March 1, 2004, defendant’s counsel
informed the court that the parties had agreed on a final
questionnaire. A few days later, defendant changed his plea to
guilty and the court granted Justin’s motion to sever.
On September 17, 2004, defendant proposed a question
that would ask the prospective jurors if viewing photographs or
videos would “upset you or influence you so that you would be
unable to remain impartial to either side in this case?” The
prosecution objected and proposed to reword the question to ask
the prospective jurors if they would be able to keep an open
mind, rather than remain impartial. The trial court noted that
in Justin’s trial, the prospective jurors had been asked the
following question: “As a juror, you may be required to view
graphic photographs of the victims and the crime scenes. Would
you be able to do this and continue to carry out your other duties
in this case as a juror?” The prosecution agreed with the
question, but defense counsel requested more time to come up
with a compromise.
The defense subsequently proposed asking prospective
jurors, “Are there any factual circumstances for which you feel
the death penalty should automatically be imposed?” The
prosecution objected, arguing that the question asked the jurors
to prejudge the evidence. The court acknowledged that “most
people” answer this question with a circumstance unrelated to
defendant’s case — i.e., something related to children — and
that the circumstances relevant to the case were covered by
other questions. The trial court rejected the defense’s question.
One week later, defendant filed a motion seeking to
conduct voir dire on case-specific evidence of mitigation and
aggravation. At a hearing on the matter, defense counsel
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
expanded on her desire to question the prospective jurors
regarding the photographs. “Judge, my concern is that because
of the gross and gruesome and horrendous and horrific nature,
and all the other words that have been in the newspaper, facts
of this case and the evidence . . . that the jurors have to have
some preparation for what they’re going to see.” The court
confirmed that the prospective jurors would be told that they
would see photographs depicting body parts but advised defense
counsel that insofar as she sought to ask jurors if they would
always impose death if the crime involved “this fact and this fact
and this fact,” counsel was “asking them to make a
predetermination based upon certain facts that you’re giving
them. And that, I don’t want to do.”
In further argument, defense counsel stated that she
wanted to ask the prospective jurors how they felt about
dismemberment and whether they would “be able to sit here and
say this man should live” after hearing that he “desecrated and
dismembered three people’s bodies.” After the court said such a
question would also be asking the jurors to prejudge the case,
defense counsel clarified that she wanted to ask if they could put
“that” aside and not prejudge the case. The prosecution replied
that “[t]hey don’t have to put that aside. That’s a circumstance
in aggravation.” The prosecution suggested that counsel could
ask the prospective jurors if they could keep an open mind and
not make any decisions about the case until they have heard all
the evidence presented. Defense counsel replied that it was
important to inform the potential jurors that the pictures would
be gruesome.
The court told counsel that it would not allow prospective
jurors to be shown pictures and then be asked whether they
could be a fair juror, but stated that it would inform potential
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
jurors that the case involved “gory” facts and “body parts.” The
court recognized that questioning on this subject involved a
“gray area,” but added that if counsel’s questions strayed from
the “issues” presented by the case and got “too far into a fact and
then a juror’s opinion based upon those facts,” the court would
sustain an objection. The court stated that the propriety of such
questions during voir dire would be resolved on a “question by
question” basis, adding, “But I think everyone knows how I feel
on that.”
The juror questionnaire that ultimately was used stated
that the Stinemans were an elderly couple and that
“dismembered remains of the Stinemans and Selina Bishop
were found floating in gym bags along the Mokelumne River
(Delta Region) in August 2000.” The questionnaire also
informed prospective jurors that they would be required to view
photographs or videos “of the people who were killed and the
scene where it occurred,” and asked whether that would
“influence you so that you would be unable or unwilling to
consider any other evidence presented?” The questionnaire did
not otherwise discuss the dismemberment of victims, or its
possible effect on juror deliberations. Prospective jurors were
also asked, “Would you always vote for the death penalty in a
case involving more than one murder [or murder committed
during a robbery or murder committed during a kidnapping]?
In other words, would you automatically vote for a sentence
imposing the death penalty regardless of what the evidence was
during the penalty trial?”
When the penalty phase voir dire began, the trial court
instructed the panel that the “proper frame of mind for a juror
entering the penalty trial would be to have an open mind, a
willingness to consider each of the two possible penalties in light
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
of all the evidence and the Court’s instructions on the law. It
would be unacceptable for a juror to approach the penalty phase
having ruled out one penalty or the other.”
During voir dire, defense counsel advised a prospective
juror that the case “involves extreme violence” and asked
whether the juror could still, if appropriate, return a sentence of
life without parole. When the prosecutor objected to the
question, the trial court told defense counsel, “When you say
here are specific facts[] this case involves and could you vote a
certain way, you are asking them to prejudge the evidence. If
you say a case that involves extreme violence, is that going to
cause a problem for you? . . . You can’t ask him how specifically
they’re going to vote. You can’t do that, based on facts that
you’ve given in the hypothetical.” Later in voir dire, defense
counsel asked a cohort of prospective jurors, “the reality is that
you’re going to spend six or seven or eight weeks seeing
[defendant] every day in court. You know that he’s pled guilty
to five murders. You read the paragraph about the
dismembered bodies. [¶] The question is . . . Could you, if you
thought the case was appropriate, come back with a verdict of
life without the possibility of parole[?]”
One of the potential jurors who was asked this question
replied, “With the little that I know about this case being
multiple murders, being mutilation or dismemberment of
bodies, premeditation, I would consider the life without parole,
but that would be an uphill battle for me.” However, this
candidate subsequently clarified that his feelings regarding
such evidence would not preclude him from voting for life
without parole. And subsequently, the trial court provided the
following clarification to prospective jurors: “[A]gain, we’re not
going to be asking you . . . how you would vote. We don’t want
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
to know that because you haven’t heard the evidence yet. If you
have certain feelings about certain issues in this case such as
multiple murder, you need to let us know about that. We’re not
going to get into specifics here. I won’t allow that. [¶] We can
ask [the prospective juror] with regard to multiple murder or
something like that, what her feeling is with regard to the death
b. Discussion
Defendant contends the trial court improperly prevented
his counsel from asking prospective jurors about the impact that
evidence of corpse dismemberment and desecration would have
on their deliberations, and that this alleged error violated
settled law, had no legitimate purpose, was an abuse of
discretion, precluded identification of jurors who would
automatically impose death, and violated his federal
constitutional rights. We disagree.
Defense counsel and the prosecution are permitted to ask
prospective jurors questions that are specific enough to
determine whether the juror harbors a bias, based on a
circumstance or fact shown by the trial evidence, that would
affect their ability to follow the court’s instructions when
weighing aggravating and mitigating evidence and determining
the penalty. (People v. Cash (2002) 28 Cal.4th 703, 720–721.
Death qualification voir dire “must not be so abstract that it fails
to identify those jurors whose death penalty views would
prevent or substantially impair the performance of their duties
as jurors in the case being tried. On the other hand, it must not
be so specific that it requires the prospective jurors to prejudge
the penalty issue based on a summary of the mitigating and
aggravating evidence likely to be presented.” (Id. at pp. 721–
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
722.) A trial court has considerable discretion in determining
what questions are permitted. (People v. Holmes, McClain and
(2022) 12 Cal.5th 719, 758.) “Where the court
exercises its discretion to exclude certain questions from the
questionnaire, we will affirm unless the voir dire was so
inadequate that the resulting trial was fundamentally unfair.”
(People v. Leon (2015) 61 Cal.4th 569, 586 (Leon).
We have previously rejected arguments similar to those
raised by defendant. In People v. Zambrano (2007) 41 Cal.4th
1082 (Zambrano), the defendant killed and dismembered the
victim. (Id. at pp. 1096–1097.) During voir dire, defense counsel
sought to ask the prospective jurors if the gruesome nature of
the dismemberment might influence their views on an
appropriate penalty. (Id. at pp. 1118–1119.) The trial court
rejected the request, concluding that asking prospective jurors
about how dismemberment might affect them would require
them to prejudge the case. (Id. at p. 1119.) We affirmed the
trial court’s ruling, holding that it did not abuse “its broad
discretion.” (Id. at p. 1122.) We noted that the trial court
permitted the defense to explore several specific circumstances
of the case with the prospective jurors, including that the
defendant and the victim were both members of the same city
commission and the allegation that the defendant killed the
victim to eliminate him as a witness in an assault case. (Ibid.
Several times, counsel’s inquiry touched upon the
dismemberment issue. (Ibid.
We explained that “[i]n Cash — our only reversal of a
death penalty judgment for failure to allow sufficient inquiry
into jurors’ death penalty attitudes about particular facts — we
stressed that the court had refused to allow defense counsel to
ask prospective jurors about ‘a general fact or circumstance . . .
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
that could cause some jurors invariably to vote for the death
penalty, regardless of the strength of the mitigating
.’ ” (Zambrano, supra, 41 Cal.4th at p. 1121.
Unlike in Cash, “the condition of the adult murder victim’s body
when found — was not one that could cause a reasonable
juror — i.e., one whose death penalty attitudes otherwise
qualified him or her to sit on a capital jury — invariably to vote
for death, regardless of the strength of the mitigating evidence.
No child victim, prior murder, or sexual implications were
involved. Nor, to the extent juror emotions might thereby be
aroused, would there be evidence that [the victim] was
dismembered while alive.” (Id. at p. 1122.) We acknowledged
that the average juror would certainly be affected by a condition
like dismemberment, similar to any brutal circumstance of a
homicide. “But the fact of dismemberment, in and of itself, does
not appear so potentially inflammatory as to transform an
who could
not deliberate fairly on the issue of penalty.” (Id. at p. 1123.
Likewise, in People v. Rogers (2009) 46 Cal.4th 1136, the
defendant argued on appeal that the trial court should have
inquired whether prospective jurors’ penalty phase
decisionmaking would be affected by the facts “that defendant
was close to his three alleged murder victims, that one of the
victims was pregnant, that another was the mother of his child,
and that two were dismembered.” (Id. at p. 1152.) We rejected
the defendant’s assertion, explaining that “it was more than
sufficient that the prospective jurors — having been informed
that defendant allegedly murdered a male friend and two former
girlfriends — were asked, in various ways, whether there were
circumstances under which they would impose the death
penalty automatically regardless of other legally relevant
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
factors.” (Ibid.) We specifically addressed, and once again
rejected, the position that prospective jurors must be informed
that the charged homicide involves dismemberment, especially
absent evidence that dismemberment occurred while the victim
was alive. (Ibid.) In so holding, we explained that in such
situations, “it is ‘not error to refuse to permit counsel to ask
questions based upon an account of the facts of [the] case, or to
ask a juror to consider particular facts that would cause him or
her to impose the death penalty.’ ” (Ibid.
Defendant acknowledges the holdings in Zambrano and
Rogers, but asserts his case is different because it involved only
a penalty phase trial and particularly gruesome facts and
desecration beyond dismemberment of the corpse, notably the
feeding of human flesh to animals. We are not persuaded that
these differences require a different outcome than in Zambrano
and Rogers. The trial court here provided for an adequate
canvas of would-be jurors. Prior to answering any questions
regarding their opinion on the death penalty, prospective jurors
were informed in the juror questionnaire that the case involved
dismemberment and that remains were found floating in duffel
bags in the Delta. It is therefore reasonable to infer that the
prospective jurors considered these facts when filling out the
questionnaire, including its question regarding whether viewing
photographs or videos of the victims and the crime scene would
render them unable or unwilling to consider other evidence.
(See Leon, supra, 61 Cal.4th at p. 587 [although the trial court
excluded questions about multiple murder, the jurors were
informed of that circumstance in the questionnaire and “it is
reasonable to believe the jurors had these charges and special
questionnaire”].) Jurors were asked in the questionnaire
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
whether they would automatically vote for death in a case
involving more than one murder, or a murder committed during
a robbery or a kidnapping. The court and the parties also
repeatedly asked prospective jurors if they could keep an open
mind and consider all evidence presented before selecting an
appropriate penalty. These inquiries, along with the other
advisements given and questions posed to prospective jurors,
were sufficient under the circumstances presented and did not
render the voir dire “so inadequate that the resulting trial was
fundamentally unfair.” (Leon, at p. 586.) We therefore find no
abuse of discretion notwithstanding the fact that this case
involved only a penalty phrase trial and conduct by defendant
going beyond dismemberment.
3. Constitutionality of Death Qualification
Defendant contends the exclusion of prospective jurors
because of an unwillingness or impaired ability to impose death
violated his right to a representative jury. Both the United
States Supreme Court and this court have held that death
qualification does not unconstitutionally alter the makeup of a
defendant’s jury. (See Lockhart, supra, 476 U.S. at pp. 175–176
[“ ‘Death qualification’ . . . is carefully designed to serve the
State’s concededly legitimate interest in obtaining a single jury
that can properly and impartially apply the law to the facts of
the case at both the guilt and sentencing phases of a capital
trial”]; Suarez, supra, 10 Cal.5th at p. 138 [“we have considered
and rejected claims that the death qualification process is
unconstitutional”].) Death qualification did not violate
defendant’s right to a jury selected from a cross-section of the
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
B. Admission of Evidence
Defendant contends the trial court abused its discretion
when it admitted evidence of corpse dismemberment. He
specifically challenges the introduction of two pieces of evidence:
(1) photographs depicting the Stinemans’ and Bishop’s
dismemberment; and (2) the sound of a reciprocating saw which
played during the prosecution’s closing argument.
1. Factual Background
After defendant pleaded guilty, he filed a motion to limit
the photographic evidence that would be admitted at the penalty
phase. He argued that photographs depicting dismemberment
should be excluded under Evidence Code section 352 because
they were unduly prejudicial, irrelevant as an undisputed issue,
cumulative, and offensive to the victims’ families. Defendant
argued in the alternative that if the photographs were admitted,
they should not remain in the jury’s view “beyond its relevant
use.” The prosecution argued in response that the photographs
were “the best evidence of the methodical and cold-blooded
manner in which this defendant killed five people.” The
prosecution also argued that “the desecration of the
bodies . . . [is] directly related to the enormity of the crimes
At the hearing on the motion, defendant argued that
because he had pleaded guilty, “there [was] no issue as to how
the deaths occurred, the manner in which they occurred.” He
further argued that the photographs of dismemberment were
inflammatory and lacked probative value for a penalty phase
trial. In response, the prosecutor argued that although
defendant had pleaded guilty, the prosecution was entitled to
present evidence regarding the manner in which the crimes
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
were committed. Additionally, he argued the photographs were
“circumstantial evidence of what is inside [defendant’s mind].
And therefore, they are very probative of the enormity of the
crime, which directly relates to the question of whether or not
the evidence in aggravation is so substantial that it warrants
imposition of the death penalty.”
The trial court noted that the prosecution had offered a
limited number of photographs in comparison to the “enormity
of the amount” of photographs taken, and that several
photographs had been used in Justin’s trial. The court opined
that the pictures of faces were “the hardest photos to look at”
but the fact that the jaws and teeth of the victims had been
hammered out was relevant for the jury in deciding which
penalty to impose. The court found that the photos were
relevant to the circumstances of the crime and that their
probative value far outweighed any prejudicial effect, and
agreed with defendant that the images should not remain in the
jury’s view indefinitely. During the trial, the photographs were
displayed only during the testimony of the coroner, Dr. Gregory
Prior to Dr. Reiber’s testimony, defendant moved to
exclude the operation and sound of the reciprocating saw, which
was to occur during the doctor’s testimony.13 The trial court
granted the motion to preclude activation of the saw, concluding
“it seems to me that seeing the body in pieces tells [the] story.
The doctor can talk about striations and we don’t need to turn it
on to show that.”
The physical saw itself had already been admitted into
evidence without objection from defendant.
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
Prior to closing arguments, defendant again moved to
preclude activation of the saw on relevance grounds. The
prosecutor argued that “turning on the saw gets the jury closer
to the reality of what happened in that bathroom.” The
prosecutor emphasized that the saw was already in evidence
and turning it on would demonstrate how it operated, which was
relevant to the degree of the harm and to showing the jury the
care and deliberation required to manipulate the saw.
The trial court acknowledged that during Dr. Reiber’s
testimony, activating the saw was not relevant to explain how
the cuts were made. The court ruled, however, that activating
the saw during closing argument was “relevant to show and
demonstrate to the jury the gravity of the crime” and was “not
overly prejudicial.” The prosecutor activated the reciprocating
saw during his closing argument to the jury.
2. Discussion
Only relevant evidence is admissible. (Evid. Code, § 350.
Evidence is relevant if it has a “tendency in reason to prove or
disprove any disputed fact that is of consequence to the
determination of the action.” (Id., § 210.) “The trial court has
broad discretion to determine the relevance of evidence
[citation], and we will not disturb the court’s exercise of that
discretion unless it acted in an arbitrary, capricious or patently
absurd manner.” (People v. Jones (2013) 57 Cal.4th 899, 947.
Evidence Code section 352 provides for the exclusion of evidence
“if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the
probability that its admission will (a) necessitate undue
consumption of time or (b) create substantial danger of undue
prejudice, of confusing the issues, or of misleading the jury.” We
review a trial court’s admission of evidence under the abuse of
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
discretion standard. (People v. Navarro (2021) 12 Cal.5th 285,
339.) The “undue prejudice” contemplated by Evidence Code
section 352 “ ‘is that which “ ‘ “uniquely tends to evoke an
emotional bias against the defendant as an individual and which
has very little effect on the issues.” ’ ” ’ ” (People v. Chhoun
(2021) 11 Cal.5th 1, 29, italics omitted.) “As to victim
photographs, the court’s discretion under Evidence Code
section 352 to exclude evidence showing circumstances of the
crime ‘is much narrower at the penalty phase than at the guilt
phase. This is so because the prosecution has the right to
establish the circumstances of the crime, including its gruesome
consequences ([Pen. Code,] § 190.3, factor (a)), and because the
risk of an improper guilt finding based on visceral reactions is
no longer present.’ ” (People v. Bell (2019) 7 Cal.5th 70, 105–
Defendant first contends the photographs depicting
dismemberment displayed during Dr. Reiber’s testimony were
irrelevant because they did not address a disputed fact. He
argues that because he had already pleaded guilty, there was no
need for the prosecutor to present evidence of the manner of
death. Defendant further argues that although dismemberment
was evidence of defendant’s disposal of the bodies, the trial court
incorrectly classified the photographs as evidence of the manner
of death. Defendant also contends that the activation of the
reciprocating saw during closing argument was similarly
irrelevant. Finally, defendant contends that both the
photographs and the sound of the saw violated his constitutional
rights to an impartial jury and rendered his trial fundamentally
unfair. We conclude the trial court did not err in admitting the
photographs, and even assuming that the prosecution should
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
not have been allowed to activate the reciprocating saw during
closing, any assumed error was harmless.
The photographs were relevant to the circumstances of the
crimes of conviction. “Under section 190.3, factor (a), the trier
of fact may consider, in aggravation, evidence relevant to ‘the
circumstances of the crime of which the defendant was convicted
in the present proceeding and the existence of any special
circumstances found to be true.’ The ‘circumstances of the
crime’ as used in section 190.3, factor (a), ‘does not mean merely
the immediate temporal and spatial circumstances of the crime.
Rather it extends to “[t]hat which surrounds materially,
morally, or logically” the crime.’ ” (People v. Blair (2005
36 Cal.4th 686, 748–749.
Here, the disputed photographs shed light on the
circumstances of the crimes because, as the trial court reasoned,
they were strong evidence of defendant’s consciousness of guilt,
the seriousness of his crimes, and the manner of death and
subsequent disposal of the victims’ bodies. The images depicted
the removal of victims’ teeth and identifiable tattoos, which
demonstrated defendant’s intent to conceal the identities of his
victims. The photographs also assisted the jury in
understanding Dr. Reiber’s testimony concerning how the
dismembering cuts and organ removal were executed, and the
high degree of skill required to do so. Although these
photographs were disturbing, we cannot say that their relevance
was substantially outweighed by a countervailing consideration,
and thus find no error in their admission.
This conclusion finds support from our analysis in People
v. Solomon (2010) 49 Cal.4th 792 (Solomon). There, we held
that photographs depicting murder victims at various stages of
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
decomposition were admissible at the penalty phase of a capital
trial as evidence of the defendant’s intent and the manner of
death. (Id. at pp. 841–842.) We observed that the photographs
“were highly relevant to the circumstances of the crimes.
[Citation.] They disclosed the manner in which the victims died
and substantiated that defendant intended and deliberated the
murders. [Citations.] They demonstrated the callousness and
cruelty of defendant’s acts. [Citation.] And they corroborated
the pathologists’ testimony and assisted the jury’s
understanding of it.” (Id. at p. 842.) The photographs
introduced here were similarly relevant.
Defendant argues his case is different from Solomon
because the photographs in that case showed decomposition
premortem and perimortem as it pertained to the manner of
death. In his case, he argues, the photographs concerned
postmortem violence. This purported distinction carries little
weight. We recognized in Solomon that “[t]he ‘circumstances of
the crime’ include what happened to the victims’ bodies as a
result of defendant’s actions. [Citation.] The consequences of
criminal conduct often extend beyond the immediate result of an
isolated act.” (Solomon, supra, 49 Cal.4th at p. 842.) Further,
we have regularly upheld the admission of graphic postmortem
photographs of victims during the penalty phase of a capital
trial. (See People v. Salcido (2008) 44 Cal.4th 93, 158 [upholding
admission of postmortem photograph of murder victim that also
suggested molestation]; Zambrano, supra, 41 Cal.4th at
pp. 1149–1152 [trial court did not abuse its discretion by
admitting graphic dismemberment photographs]; People v.
Moon (2005) 37 Cal.4th 1, 34–35 [graphic photos excluded
during guilt phase were later admitted as penalty phase
evidence]; People v. Box (2000) 23 Cal.4th 1153, 1201 [upholding
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
admission of photographs that were bloody and graphic].
Therefore, contrary to defendant’s assertion, we have found
photographs of both premortem and postmortem violence to be
relevant under similar circumstances.
While the jury must be shielded from “ ‘depictions that
sensationalize’ ” the alleged crimes, “ ‘the jury cannot be
shielded from an accurate depiction of the charged crimes that
does not unnecessarily play upon the emotions of the jurors.’ ”
(People v. Streeter (2012) 54 Cal.4th 205, 238.) In Streeter, the
defendant poured gasoline on his son’s mother and lit her on fire;
she suffered extensive burns on nearly 60 percent of her body
and died 10 days later. (Id. at pp. 212–214.) On appeal, the
defendant challenged the admission of three photographs
showing the victim’s burn injuries, expert testimony concerning
the nature and degree of the victim’s burns, and a tape recording
of the victim screaming in the ambulance. (Id. at pp. 234–236.
We held that the trial court did not abuse its broad discretion,
noting that “the evidence ‘did no more than accurately portray
the shocking nature of the crimes.’ ” (Id. at p. 238.) Here,
defendant cannot establish that the admitted photographs were
inaccurate depictions of the charged crimes, or that they
unnecessarily played upon the emotions of the jurors. Again,
the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it admitted the
Defendant challenges the activation of the reciprocating
saw during closing argument on nearly identical relevance
grounds. Ruling on objections of this nature lies within the
court’s broad discretion. (People v. Simon (2016) 1 Cal.5th 98,
147 (Simon) [“Trial courts have broad discretion to control the
duration and scope of closing arguments”].) We acknowledge
the inflammatory nature of how this evidence was used during
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
closing argument. However, the saw itself had already been
admitted into evidence, with witnesses describing how it had
been used to dismember multiple victims. And the jury heard a
significant amount of testimony regarding defendant’s scheme
to murder the Stinemans and Bishop for money, and the manner
in which he kidnapped, murdered, and disposed of the victims.
Given this detailed account of the crimes, and the record as a
whole, there is no reasonable possibility that defendant would
have received a different outcome but for the activation of the
saw during closing argument. Thus, even if we were to assume
it was error to allow the prosecutor to activate the saw during
closing argument, defendant has failed to establish a reasonable
possibility the penalty verdict would have been different absent
the use of this evidence. (See People v. Silveria and Travis
(2020) 10 Cal.5th 195, 266, citing People v. Lancaster (2007
41 Cal.4th 50, 94 [the standard that an “error is reversible if
there is a reasonable possibility it affected the verdict . . . is
essentially the same as the harmless beyond a reasonable doubt
standard of Chapman v. California (1967) 386 U.S. 18, 24”]; see
People v. Brown (1988) 46 Cal.3d 432, 448 [the reasonable
possibility standard applies “when assessing the effect of state-
law error at the penalty phase of a capital trial”].
C. Asserted Instructional Error
1. Proposed Instructions and Closing Argument
Defendant contends the trial court’s refusal to instruct the
jury with certain instructions proposed by the defense, coupled
with the prosecutor’s asserted misstatement of the law during
closing argument, precluded the jury from considering
applicable mitigating circumstances. We find the prosecutor
misstated the law when arguing the applicability of section
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
190.3, factors (d) and (h) to the jury, but the prosecutor’s
misstatements do not warrant reversal.
a. Background
After the prosecution presented its case-in-chief and
rested, the parties discussed jury instructions. The defense
requested 38 instructions, many of which were proposed to
modify CALJIC No. 8.85.
Defendant’s proposed jury instruction No. 8 informed the
jurors that they could only consider section 190.3, factors (a
through (c) as aggravating factors, and the remaining factors
could only be considered as mitigating factors. The trial court
rejected the proposed instruction, noting that it was not
required to differentiate which factors are mitigating and which
are aggravating.
Defendant’s proposed jury instruction No. 15 informed
jurors that they were not limited to the statutory mitigating
factors and may consider any circumstance in defendant’s
background, history, or character. The court rejected the
proposed instruction, finding it duplicative of section 190.3,
factor (k) in the standard instruction.
Defendant’s proposed jury instruction No. 16 expanded on
section 190.3, factor (d), the factor that directs the trier of fact’s
attention to whether the offense was committed while the
defendant was under the influence of extreme mental or
emotional disturbance, by informing jurors that: (1) they could
consider evidence of mental or emotional disturbance regardless
of whether there was an excuse or explanation for it; (2) such
disturbance is akin to heat of passion upon adequate
provocation, but it need not rise to the same level to be
considered mitigating; (3) such disturbance could be caused by
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
anything, including consumption of drugs and alcohol or mental
illness; and (4) if they found that defendant suffered from such
disturbance at the time of the crimes, then they must consider
it as a mitigating circumstance. The court rejected the
instruction, finding it argumentative.
Defendant’s proposed jury instruction No. 20 modified
section 190.3, factor (h) by informing jurors that the mental
impairment referred to in the standard instruction included
“any degree of mental defect, disease, impairment, or
intoxication” that jurors believed mitigated against death. The
court decided not to modify CALJIC No. 8.85 as requested and
instead gave the proposed instruction as its own instruction
immediately following CALJIC No. 8.85.
Defendant’s proposed jury instruction No. 21, to be read
following section 190.3, factor (h), informed jurors: (1) “mental
disease or defect,” as used in that factor, did not mean legal
insanity; (2) jurors could consider whether defendant was
unable to fully comprehend the wrongfulness of his conduct, or
whether, knowing his conduct was wrong, he was nonetheless
unable to fully conform his conduct to the law; and (3) the cause
of such disease or defect could be the consumption of drugs or
alcohol or any other reason. The court found the proposed
instruction to be argumentative and declined to give it.
Defendant’s proposed jury instructions Nos. 22 and 23
sought to categorize specific factors, or the absence of a factor,
as aggravating or mitigating circumstances. The court declined
to give the instructions, reminding the defense that it “has
already determined that it doesn’t want to designate which
[factor] is mitigating and which is aggravating.”
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
Defendant’s proposed jury instruction No. 24A would have
informed the jurors that the mitigating factors enumerated by
the court were merely examples of some of the bases on which
jurors can decide to impose a sentence of life imprisonment, and
that mitigating factors need not be proven beyond a reasonable
doubt. The court rejected the instruction, finding it duplicative
of section 190.3, factor (k).
During closing argument, the prosecutor explained section
190.3, factors (a) through (k) to the jury. He explained that
factor (b) involved prior criminal history, a circumstance in
aggravation “if it applied, but we don’t have it. Factor [(b)]
doesn’t apply.” He continued, “Factor [(c)], similar, prior felony
circumstances. We don’t have any of that in this case. So factor
[(c)] does not apply.” The prosecutor moved on to factor (d),
explaining that it concerned whether defendant was under the
influence of a mental or emotional disturbance. He
acknowledged the defense’s argument that methamphetamine
use caused defendant to act impulsively, and argued, “You know
what folks? That doesn’t apply in this case. Yes, the defendant
was using methamphetamine. . . . Not only do you not have
[evidence of a methamphetamine crash], this crime in this case
is as far removed from impulsivity and anger as it could be. This
is as cold-blooded and premeditated as it could possibly be. This
case is not the product of extreme mental or emotional
disturbance. Factor [(d)] does not apply here.”
When discussing section 190.3, factor (h), concerning
impairment due to intoxication, the prosecutor argued that this
factor also did not apply. He told the jury that defendant had
the capacity to appreciate the criminality of his conduct, as
evidenced by defendant trying to hide the bodies and kill
witnesses who could identify him. He argued to the jury that if
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
defendant was mentally ill and that illness prevented him from
appreciating the criminality of his conduct, “you should see all
kinds of criminality going on between 1990 [the time of his
alleged diagnosis] and 1998. And you don’t. Why? No matter
what you say, in the final analysis, whether or not you accept
the premise of mental illness, the fact of the matter is it does not
prevent the defendant the capacity to conform to the
requirements of [the] law. This factor does not apply.”
When discussing section 190.3, factor (k), the prosecutor
noted that “it’s the kitchen sink” and any extenuating
circumstance presented by the defense could be considered
mitigating under factor (k). The prosecutor reminded the jury,
however, of one limitation on mitigating evidence; jurors could
not consider sympathy for the defendant’s family as a factor in
Defense counsel did not object at any time during the
prosecutor’s closing argument. During defense counsel’s closing
argument, she reminded the jurors of their obligation to weigh
and consider all the evidence presented. She explained that
each juror had the right to give whatever weight that juror
wanted to each mitigating factor, to decide whether any
mitigating factor is significant enough to overcome the evidence
in aggravation, and the right to “find your own mitigating
factor.” She repeatedly reminded the jury that the law does not
require a death verdict and each juror had the right to form an
independent opinion, regardless of what fellow jurors believed.
She discussed defendant’s history of mental illness and drug use
and argued that defendant committed the crimes while under
the influence of extreme mental or emotional disturbance.
Counsel argued that defendant was “generous, kind, thoughtful
and caring to everyone he came into contact with” and that his
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
life was worth saving. She concluded by reminding the jury that
defendant took legal and personal responsibility for his actions,
and asserted that he did not deserve to die.
After closing arguments, the trial court read the
instructions to the jury. As relevant here, the court instructed
the jury with a slightly modified version of CALJIC No. 8.85 and
six additional instructions immediately following CALJIC
No. 8.85. The additional instructions informed the jurors that:
(1) not every factor listed in CALJIC No. 8.85 would be relevant,
a factor not relevant to the evidence presented should be
discarded, and the absence of a mitigating factor does not
constitute an aggravating factor; (2) circumstances of the crime
can be considered mitigating or aggravating; (3) victim impact
evidence is not a separate aggravating circumstance but may be
considered as a circumstance of the crime; (4) mental
impairment is not limited to evidence which excuses or reduces
a defendant’s legal culpability, but includes any degree of
mental defect, disease, impairment, or intoxication; (5) jurors
are not allowed to consider aggravating circumstances beyond
the enumerated factors; and (6) jurors may consider whatever
sympathy or compassion arises from the evidence presented as
a reason to reject the death penalty. The trial court also
instructed the jury that it must accept and follow the law as
provided by the court, and if “anything said by the attorneys in
their argument or any other time during the trial conflicts with
[the court’s] instructions on the law, [the jury] must follow [the
court’s] instructions.”
b. Discussion
Defendant acknowledges that the trial court instructed
the jury to consider, take into account, and be guided by the
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
mitigating factors provided in CALJIC No. 8.85 as applicable to
defendant’s case. He is not arguing the trial court erred when
it refused his proposed instructions, nor is he arguing that the
prosecutor committed misconduct during closing argument. He
is arguing, however, that the prosecutor misstated the law
regarding aggravating and mitigating factors and that the trial
court’s rejection of his proposed instructions, and failure to
provide curative instructions, compounded the prosecutor’s
error. We agree the prosecutor misstated the law regarding
section 190.3, factors (d) and (h), but we conclude the error was
Defendant asserts that when the prosecutor argued there
was no prior criminal history or prior felony convictions, he
effectively told the jury that the lack of a criminal history did
not apply as a mitigating factor. A complete reading of the
prosecutor’s argument, however, does not support defendant’s
argument. When discussing the jury’s responsibility in
weighing the evidence presented, the prosecutor started by
explaining that it was up to the jurors to decide what evidence
was aggravating, what evidence was mitigating, and how much
weight to give each piece of evidence. When discussing
circumstances in aggravation, the prosecutor noted that prior
criminal history “could be a circumstance in aggravation, if it
applied, but we don’t have it.” He similarly said that because
there were no prior felony circumstances, section 190.3, factor
(c) likewise did not apply. The prosecutor then shifted gears,
saying, “Now, let me talk about those other factors.” The
prosecutor did not argue that the absence of section 190.3,
factors (b) and (c) evidence was not mitigating.
Defendant also argues that the prosecutor erroneously
argued that section 190.3, factor (d) did not apply. We agree.
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
The prosecutor suggested that factor (d) applies only to acts
committed as a result of “impulsivity,” “extreme anger,” and
“heat of passion.” He further asserted that the factor “does not
apply” in this case because defendant’s crime was “as far
removed from impulsivity and anger as it could be” and was “as
cold-blooded and premeditated as it could possibly be.” The
factor, by its terms, is not so limited; it applies if “the offense
was committed while the defendant was under the influence of
extreme mental or emotional disturbance.” (§ 190.3, factor (d);
see People v. Yeoman (2003) 31 Cal.4th 93, 145–146
[prosecutor’s statement that factor (d) “ ‘exists for people who
are psychotic’ . . . was incorrect” but prosecutor “corrected” the
misstatement “by characterizing factor (d) more expansively as
describing ‘people who are so badly disturbed that . . . you as a
human being and the law and your morality says maybe we
ought to consider how screwed up they were and give them a
break’ ”]; but see People v. Wright (1990) 52 Cal.3d 367, 444
[prosecution’s statement, “[w]hen discussing the applicability of
factor (d),” that “there was no evidence defendant was ‘psychotic,
delusional, paranoid, schizophrenic, or that he hallucinated’ . . .
was proper argument since factor (d) concerns extreme
emotional problems”].
We likewise agree that the prosecutor misstated the law
regarding the applicability of section 190.3, factor (h). As
defendant notes, the prosecutor’s argument indicates that factor
(h) requires that defendant lack the capacity to appreciate the
criminality of his conduct or conform to the requirements of the
law. However, factor (h) simply calls for consideration of any
impairment of the relevant capacities by mental disease, defect,
or intoxication. Thus, the prosecutor’s argument incorrectly
suggests that factor (h) does not apply because it requires
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
defendant to lack the capacity to conform his conduct to the law,
rather than that those capacities merely be “impaired.”
However, the prosecutor’s comments regarding section
190.3, factors (d) and (h) do not warrant reversal. Defense
counsel reminded the jury that defendant “was and is mentally
disturbed,” and devoted almost her entire closing argument to
the proposition that the murders “were an aberration, a
culmination of mental illness and drug abuse that resulted in a
bizarre and completely unrealistic scheme to save the world.”
She told jurors that their “rights” included “[t]he right to give
whatever weight [you] want[] to each mitigating fact or factors,”
“[t]he right to decide for yourself whether any mitigating factor
is significant enough to overcome all the aggravation,” and “[t]he
right to find your own mitigating factor and assign to it
whatever weight you think is sufficient for a vote for life.”
Furthermore, following closing argument, the trial court
instructed jurors that “[t]he mental impairment referred to in
this instruction is not limited to evidence which excuses the
crime or reduces the defendant’s legal culpability, but includes
any degree of mental defect, disease, impairment or intoxication
which the jury determines is of a nature that death should not
be imposed.” The court also instructed on section 190.3, factor
(k), telling jurors that they must take into account “[a]ny other
circumstance which extenuates the gravity of the crime, even
though it is not a legal excuse for the crime, and any
sympathetic or other aspect of the defendant’s character or
record that the defendant offers as a basis for a sentence less
than death, whether or not related to the offense for which he is
on trial.” And the prosecution reminded the jury in his
argument that “[a]ny other circumstance which extenuates”
could be considered under factor (k). We have consistently held
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
that this instruction allows jurors to consider mental conditions
that do not qualify as mitigating factors under factors (d) and
(h). (E.g., People v. Welch (1999) 20 Cal.4th 701, 768–769.
Finally, we note that the trial court instructed the jurors
that they should follow the law provided in the instructions and
if counsel said anything conflicting, the jurors must follow the
court’s instructions. Nothing in the record before us suggests
the jurors did not follow this instruction.
In light of defense counsel’s argument and the trial court’s
instruction, “there is not a reasonable likelihood that the [jurors]
would have inferred that they could not consider” evidence of
defendant’s mental state “in mitigation of penalty.” (People v.
(1991) 54 Cal.3d 612, 694.) On the contrary, they
“undoubtedly considered defendant’s mental state in
determining the appropriate sentence” and, under our
precedents, “whether [they] did so under” section 190.3, factor
(k) “instead of” under section 190.3, factors (d) or (h) “is
irrelevant.” (People v. Rich (1988) 45 Cal.3d 1036, 1120.
2. Impact of Execution
Defendant contends that the trial court erroneously
instructed the jury regarding the emotional impact of his
execution on his family as mitigating evidence during penalty
deliberations. The court instructed the jury using CALJIC
No. 8.85, subdivision (k), which states: “Sympathy for the
family of the defendant is not a matter that you can consider in
mitigation. Evidence, if any, of the impact of an execution on
family members should be disregarded unless it illuminates
some positive quality of the defendant’s background or
character.” Defendant acknowledges that this court has
repeatedly rejected this claim. (See People v. Battle (2021
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
11 Cal.5th 749; People v. Williams (2013) 56 Cal.4th 165
(Williams); People v. Ochoa (1998) 19 Cal.4th 353.) He does not
provide a persuasive reason to revisit this precedent.
3. Proposed Instruction on Death Sentence
Defendant contends that the trial court erroneously
rejected two proposed instructions informing the jury that it
could impose life imprisonment without the possibility of parole,
instead of the death penalty, for any reason.
Defendant’s proposed jury instruction No. 13 provided in
relevant part: “The normative function of deciding which
penalty should actually be imposed is entirely in your hands.”
Defendant’s proposed jury instruction No. 28 provided in
relevant part: “You may impose a life sentence without finding
the existence of any statutory mitigating circumstance. Even if
you should find beyond a reasonable doubt the existence of a
statutory aggravating circumstance and find no mitigating
circumstance, you may still decide that a sentence of life
imprisonment without possibility of parole is the appropriate
punishment in this case. In other words, you may, in your good
judgment, impose a life sentence for any reason at all that you
see fit to consider. [¶] It is not essential to a decision to impose
a sentence of life imprisonment without possibility of parole that
you find mitigating circumstances. You may spare the life of
[defendant] for any reason you deem appropriate and
satisfactory.” The trial judge ultimately rejected the proposed
language of both instructions as argumentative.
We have consistently held that CALJIC Nos. 8.85 and 8.88
“ ‘adequately and properly instruct on the jury’s determination
of sentence.’ ” (People v. Anderson (2018) 5 Cal.5th 372, 424.
Furthermore, to the extent that the proposed instructions
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
sought to advise the jurors that they could return a verdict of
life imprisonment without the possibility of parole even if the
circumstances, or in the complete absence of mitigating
circumstances, we have repeatedly held a trial court is not
required to give such instructions. (See People v. Bryant, Smith
and Wheeler
(2014) 60 Cal.4th 335, 457 [the trial court is not
required to instruct that the jury “could return a life verdict even
if no mitigating factors had been established”].
To the extent the proposed instructions sought to advise
the jurors that they could consider mercy or sympathy in
weighing the circumstances presented, they were duplicative of
CALJIC No. 8.85. (See People v. Scully (2021) 11 Cal.5th 542,
610.) Furthermore, as requested by defendant, the trial court
instructed the jury with CALJIC No. 8.85.6, explaining that it
could reject the death penalty solely on the basis that mitigating
evidence, such as testimony from defendant’s friends and
family, gave rise to compassion or sympathy.
D. Challenges to the Death Penalty Law
Defendant raises several challenges to California’s death
penalty statute. He acknowledges that we have previously
rejected similar challenges to the death penalty statute and
provides no persuasive reason to revisit these previous holdings.
Death row delays “do not constitute cruel and unusual
punishment because they resulted from the ‘desire of our courts,
state and federal, to get it right, to explore . . . any argument
that might save someone’s life.’ ” (People v. McDowell (2012
54 Cal.4th 395, 412.) Further, “The slow pace of executions in
California, . . . does not render our system unconstitutionally
arbitrary.” (People v. Lee (2011) 51 Cal.4th 620, 654.
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
Defendant’s argument requesting consideration of the impact of
a death sentence on the families of both the victims and the
condemned inmate does not alter our conclusion.
Defendant contends the Legislature has effectively
suspended his rights to counsel, confrontation, and other
elements of due process by failing to provide him with habeas
corpus counsel in a timely manner. We have previously rejected
these claims as “entirely speculative” and do so again here.
(Williams, supra, 56 Cal.4th at p. 202.
“California’s death penalty law ‘adequately narrows the
class of murderers subject to the death penalty’ and does not
violate the Eighth Amendment. [Citation.] Section 190.2, which
sets forth the circumstances in which the penalty of death may
be imposed, is not impermissibly broad in violation of the Eighth
Amendment.” (People v. Williams (2013) 58 Cal.4th 197, 294.
“Allowing the jury to consider the circumstances of the
crime (§ 190.3, factor (a)) does not lead to the imposition of the
death penalty in an arbitrary or capricious manner.” (People v.
(2005) 36 Cal.4th 595, 641.
The death penalty statute “is not invalid for failing to
require (1) written findings or unanimity as to aggravating
factors, (2) proof of all aggravating factors beyond a reasonable
doubt, (3) findings that aggravation outweighs mitigation
beyond a reasonable doubt, or (4) findings that death is the
appropriate penalty beyond a reasonable doubt.” (People v.
(2003) 30 Cal.4th 43, 126.) These conclusions are not
altered by the United States Supreme Court’s decisions in Hurst
v. Florida
(2016) 577 U.S. 92, Ring v. Arizona (2002) 536 U.S.
584, and Apprendi v. New Jersey (2000) 530 U.S. 466. (People v.
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
Becerrada (2017) 2 Cal.5th 1009, 1038; Simon, supra, 1 Cal.5th
at p. 149; People v. Rangel (2016) 62 Cal.4th 1192, 1235, fn. 16.
“The adjectives ‘extreme’ and ‘substantial’ in statutory
mitigating factors (d) and (g) of section 190.3 do not prevent the
jury from considering mitigating evidence.” (People v. Leonard
(2007) 40 Cal.4th 1370, 1429 (Leonard).
“The trial court is not required to instruct the jury that
statutory factors (d), (e), (f), (g), (h), and (j) in section 190.3 are
relevant only as mitigating factors, not as aggravating factors.”
(Leonard, supra, 40 Cal.4th at p. 1430.
Finally, California’s death penalty does not violate
international law or international norms of decency. (People v.
(2012) 53 Cal.4th 771, 837.
E. Asserted Cumulative Error
Defendant contends reversal is warranted because of the
cumulative prejudice from the errors he identifies. Even
assuming the court erred in allowing the prosecutor to activate
the reciprocating saw during closing argument, we have
concluded it was harmless. And although the prosecutor
misstated the law regarding the applicability of section 190.3,
factors (d) and (h), defendant suffered no prejudice. Even
considered together, these errors are harmless and there is no
cumulative prejudice that warrants reversal.
Opinion of the Court by Guerrero, C. J.
We affirm the judgment.
We Concur:


See next page for addresses and telephone numbers for counsel who
argued in Supreme Court.
Name of Opinion People v. Helzer

Procedural Posture
(see XX below
Original Appeal XX
Original Proceeding
Review Granted
Review Granted (unpublished)
Rehearing Granted
Opinion No.
Date Filed: January 22, 2024

County: Contra Costa
Judge: Mary Ann O’Malley

Jeanne Keevan-Lynch, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for
Defendant and Appellant.
Kamala D. Harris and Rob Bonta, Attorneys General, Gerald A.
Engler, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Ronald S. Matthias,
Assistant Attorney General, Glenn R. Pruden and Sarah J. Farhat,
Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

Counsel who argued in Supreme Court (not intended for
publication with opinion):

Jeanne Keevan-Lynch
Attorney at Law
P.O. Box 2433
Mendocino, CA 95460
(707) 895-2090
Sarah J. Farhat
Deputy Attorney General
455 Golden Gate Avenue, Suite 11000
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 510-3792
Opinion Information
Date:Docket Number:
Mon, 01/22/2024S132256