The California Supreme Court Thursday upheld the death sentence of one of three men convicted of the December 1998 rape and beating death of a mother of three who was attacked while walking to a store in Long Beach.
In a 6-1 ruling, the state’s highest court rejected the defense’s contention that there were errors in the trial of Warren Justin Hardy, who was found guilty in December 2002 of the Dec. 29, 1998, sexual assault, robbery and slaying of Penny Sigler, who was also known as Penny Keprta.
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Goodwin H. Liu wrote that he felt the judgment against Hardy should be reversed.
“As a result of the prosecutor striking every black juror she could have struck, the black defendant in this capital case, charged with raping and murdering a white woman, was tried by a jury that included no black person,” Liu wrote, adding that his inquiry “leads me to conclude that, more likely than not, the jury that convicted Hardy and sentenced him to death was not selected free of improper discrimination.”
Hardy’s half-brother, Jamelle Armstrong, and a third man, Kevin Pearson, were charged along with Hardy in the woman’s killing. They were tried separately and also sentenced to death.
Automatic appeals filed on behalf of Armstrong and Pearson are still pending.
The 43-year-old victim was walking to a store about 11 p.m. when she was attacked under an overpass for the San Diego (405) Freeway in Long Beach. She suffered 114 injuries, including at least 10 skull fractures that appeared to have been inflicted before her death, according to the California Supreme Court majority’s opinion.
The woman’s body was found by Caltrans workers — one of them thought the body was a mannequin — on a freeway embankment on the northbound 405 Freeway near Wardlow Road and Long Beach Boulevard.
“The victim was moved to the embankment before being raped, from which the jury could infer that defendant and his co-defendants kidnapped her with the intent to rape in addition to the intent to kill,” Justice Ming W. Chin wrote on behalf of the majority.
The panel also noted that there was evidence that Sigler had been given food stamps, that an empty food stamp booklet was found at the scene of the crime and that food stamps bearing that serial number were used at a nearby market, and that the store’s owner testified that Hardy had used food stamps to buy items around that time.
“This evidence was sufficient to support the conclusion that defendant took the victim’s food stamps and used them. This conclusion, in turn, supported the robbery finding,” Chin wrote.
In a 2012 ruling that cited the trial court’s “improper excusal of a prospective juror because of her views on capital punishment,” the California Supreme Court unanimously threw out Pearson’s first death sentence. The second jury to hear the penalty phase against Pearson recommended in April 2013 that he be sentenced to death, and he was formally sentenced again to death in June 2013.
At Pearson’s second sentencing in 2013, Superior Court Judge Tomson T. Ong said the attack “started out as a crime of opportunity” against a woman who was dragged into a dark area and attacked while walking alone at night.
The noise of the nearby freeway precluded anyone from hearing her screams during the attack, the judge said then, noting that the 5-foot-2-inch, 110-pound woman was outnumbered three to one and that Pearson was an “active participant” in the crime.
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