California Supreme Court building. Photo via Wikimedia Commons
California Supreme Court building. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The California Supreme Court Wednesday refused to hear the case of a man convicted of strangling a retired Hollywood High School teacher with whom he had begun corresponding while he was behind bars for killing a man in New York.

The state’s highest court denied a defense petition seeking its review of the case against Scott Kratlian, who was found guilty in October 2015 of the first-degree murder of Harry Major, an 82-year-old former English instructor whose body was found in a bathtub in the victim’s apartment in the Hollywood area in February 2014.

Kratlian is serving a 56-year-to-life term for Major’s killing.

In January, a three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal rejected the defense’s contention that the prosecution should have been barred from presenting evidence about Kratlian’s guilty plea to voluntary manslaughter for the 1992 New York killing to the Los Angeles Superior Court jury that convicted him of Major’s slaying.

“The charged crime and the 1992 killing were sufficiently similar to be probative of identity. Both involved the killing of elderly men (in each case, the victim was approximately 40 years defendant’s senior) after engaging in sexual relations,” the appellate court justices found in their Jan. 11 ruling.

“The evidence against defendant was substantial, and the 1992 incident was only a small part of the case,” the 16-page ruling said. “It is not reasonably probable that defendant would have received a more favorable result had the evidence of the prior killing been excluded.”

The appeals court panel also turned down the defense’s claims that jurors should have been instructed on the lesser offense of voluntary manslaughter and that the judge should have instructed them that they could consider evidence of provocation when determining whether Kratlian acted with premeditation and deliberation.

“There was absolutely no evidence that defendant killed Mr. Major in a fit of rage, that Mr. Major’s conduct would put a reasonable person in a homicidal rage, or that defendant believed he needed to defend himself against a deadly attack by Mr. Major,” the panel found.

Deputy District Attorney Tony Cho told jurors that Salvatore Caggiano — the 66-year-old man Kratlian admitted killing in New York in 1992 — was killed “in almost the same way” and that both victims were left naked or nearly naked in a bathroom.

The victim in New York was about 40 years older than Kratlian — about the same age difference between Major and Kratlian, the prosecutor said, calling the two cases “incredibly consistent” and “basically unique.”

“It’s almost like the defendant’s signature,” Cho told jurors.

Kratlian and Major engaged in sexual relations after Kratlian arrived in Los Angeles, and things went “sour” after a fight between the defendant and another man who was visiting Major, Cho said.

The prosecutor said there was a “very clear picture” of the defendant walking out of a 7-Eleven store, where $200 was withdrawn from an ATM via Major’s credit card on Feb. 10, 2014, and that $100 was withdrawn at a liquor store a few minutes earlier. Numerous other attempts were also made to withdraw money, Cho told jurors.

Kratlian — who was arrested eight days after the killing — admitted to police that he had been involved in a physical altercation with Major on Feb. 10, 2014, according to the prosecutor.

“He basically admits to everything short of killing Mr. Major and taking his credit card and using it,” Cho told the panel.

Kratlian’s trial attorney, Angela Cheung, conceded that her client had used Major’s credit card, but argued that didn’t mean he was the killer.

She questioned why Kratlian would return to the scene of the crime after using the credit card if he was the person who killed Major, and said surveillance video showed her client “walking, not running, not looking over his shoulder” … “not the actions of someone who just murdered Mr. Harry Major in cold blood.”

She said a small amount of blood belonging to Major that was later found on one of Kratlian’s shoes was consistent with the “minor struggle” described by her client.

—City News Service

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