The type of evidence sufficient to sustain a finding of premeditation and deliberation falls into three basic categories: (1) facts about what defendant did prior to the killing showing he engaged in activity directed toward and intended to result in the killing; (2) facts about the defendant's relationship with or conduct toward victim from which the jury could reasonably infer a motive; and (3) facts about the nature of the killing from which the jury could infer that the manner of killing was so particular and exacting that the defendant must have intentionally killed according to a preconceived design to take his victim's life in a particular way for a reason.
Defendant Robert Arthur Anderson was indicted for the murder of his girlfriend's daughter, V.H., a 10-year-old girl. After trial in California state court, the jury found defendant guilty of first degree murder, found that he was sane, and fixed the penalty at death. On appeal, the court reversed the judgment both as to conviction and penalty, one of the grounds being that the introduction of defendant's extrajudicial confession violated due process. After a second trial, the jury again found defendant guilty of first degree murder, found that he was sane, and fixed the penalty at death. The case was elevated on automatic appeal.
Was the death penalty appropriate in defendant's case?
The state supreme court held that there was insufficient evidence to support a verdict of first degree murder on a theory of premeditation or deliberation or murder committed during the perpetration or attempted perpetration of a violation of Cal. Pen. Code. § 288. In reversing the trial court's judgment, the court concluded that the lack of any conduct by defendant prior to the killing indicating a plan for attack or murder, the absence of any behavior from which the jury could infer a motive or desire to sexually attack or kill the victim, and the manner of the killing, which was a random, violent, indiscriminate attack rather than deliberately placed wounds inflicted according to a preconceived design, supported a conviction for murder in the second degree, not murder in the first degree. That defendant attempted to clean up after the crime and lied about the victim's whereabouts to her brother and mother bore on his state of mind subsequent to the killing and was not relevant to ascertaining his state of mind prior to or during the killing. The judgment was modified by reducing the offense to second degree murder.