For the second time, a state appeals court panel on Thursday reversed a reputed gang member’s conviction for the shooting deaths of a 17-year-old girl and her 16-year-old brother a decade ago.
The ruling marked the second time in less than four years that a three- justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal has reversed Frank Williams’ first-degree murder conviction in the Jan. 31, 2004, killings of Shulma and Jason Ramos, along with other charges stemming from the shooting. In its 28-page ruling, the panel noted that the defense argued “reversal is required because a gang expert spontaneously interjected into his testimony an assertion that defendant had participated in, and gotten away with, an unrelated violent bank robbery in which an accomplice was killed.”
“We agree because the testimony was extremely inflammatory, the evidence in the case was very closely balanced, and the court’s subsequent direction to disregard the evidence was insufficient to cure the resulting prejudice,” the ruling states.
The appellate court justices, however, rejected the defense’s contention that there was insufficient evidence to support a finding of premeditation, which would have barred Williams from being retried on first-degree murder charges.
Williams was most recently convicted in April 2012 of two counts each of murder involving the teen siblings and attempted murder of two of their friends, along with one count each of shooting at an occupied motor vehicle and mayhem.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Stephen Marcus sentenced him in April 2013 to life in prison without the possibility of parole, saying that the “enormity of this crime” had touched him.
Williams was previously found guilty of the killings in September 2008. But a 2nd District Court of Appeal panel overturned that conviction, ruling in November 2010 that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor erred in admitting evidence discovered late in the first trial that a defense alibi witness was arrested in possession of one of two guns that was used in the killings.
The first jury to hear the case against Williams in March 2007 announced it was hopelessly deadlocked. That jury convicted another man, Leon McDonald Brown, of first-degree murder for the killings of the teen siblings, who were with a group of friends looking for a party in the 3100 block of West Adams Boulevard when they were confronted.
The teens — who did not have any gang affiliation — retreated to their car, and shots were fired at the vehicle containing the brother and sister, who were shot in the head and back, respectively, and two of their friends were injured.
Brown was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. His conviction was upheld on appeal and the California Supreme Court refused to review the case.
— City News Service