The life of double murderer Joseph Kekoa Manibusan will hang in the balance Thursday when his appellate attorney attacks his jury and judge before the California Supreme Court.
Oregon attorney David S. Adams will argue that now-retired Monterey County Judge Jonathan Price abused his discretion by rejecting a motion for a new trial in the face of a "progressive march" of "serious and ongoing" juror misconduct in Manibusan's capital murder trial.
That jury convicted Manibusan of the "thrill kills" of Monterey Institute of International Studies student Priya Matthews and Seaside mother Francis Olivo in a shooting spree that ended Feb. 1, 1998.
Matthews' fellow student Jennifer Aninger was critically wounded as she stood with her friend under the stars on Monterey Municipal Wharf No. 2.
Olivo was gunned down hours later on a Seaside street corner. She was a mother of six who struggled with drug addiction.
Manibusan did not speak to Olivo before he motioned her toward his car and shot her three times. He was driving earlier that evening when co-defendant Norman Willover gunned down the first two victims.
Matthews, 35, spoke five languages and was an attorney in Germany. Aninger, then 28 and a musician, was studying French and German translation at MIIS. The bullet in her brain robbed her of her sense of taste and smell.
According to testimony, Manibusan, Willover and two friends went hunting for people to rob that night. The friends testified against them in separate trials. Willover, who was 17 in 1998 and ineligible for the death penalty, was sentenced to life without possibility of parole.
The jury recommended Manibusan, 19 when he committed the crimes, be executed. On Jan. 24, 2001, Price agreed and sentenced him to die by lethal injection.
In 462 pages of appellate briefs, Adams argues that Price and the jury failed to provide Manibusan a fair hearing in both the guilt and penalty phases of the trial. The judge, he said, had ample proof of jury misconduct and failed to investigate further or order a new trial.
Deputy Attorney General Alisha Carlile argued that Price adequately explored each objection raised by trial defenders Gene Martinez of Salinas and Larry Biegel of Monterey and concluded the jurors were impartial and unaffected by any inadmissible information they discussed.
The "progressive march of irregularity" began with a letter to the judge from the juror who would become jury forewoman, identified as Juror 58. The woman informed the judge she had recognized an observer who had come into the courtroom and later learned she was a friend of Manibusan's mother.
The juror said she and, particularly, her husband were concerned for their family's safety because her identity had been revealed to Manibusan's family. The letter asked that she be removed, but the woman later assured Price she could remain unbiased and wanted to stay on the jury. Over the objections of Martinez and Biegel, he let her.
The same juror later asked to be replaced as forewoman so her signature would not be on the verdict forms. At least one juror later confirmed that Juror 58 discussed her safety concerns in deliberations the day the panel rendered its guilty verdict.
Juror 58 eventually revealed she had talked about Manibusan, possibly during his trial, with a sheriff's deputy who had heard the defendant confess.
And in affidavits after their verdicts, multiple jurors said deliberations during the penalty phase included discussions regarding the fact Manibusan did not testify and descriptions by one juror, a prison counselor, of the living conditions of inmates sentenced to life without possibility of parole. Neither topic is admissible and jurors are warned to base deliberations only on the evidence presented.
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