The California Supreme Court Wednesday denied a petition asking it to review the case of one of two men convicted of the murders of a Chatsworth couple during a robbery in their home more than two decades ago.
Antwan Allison — who contends that his murder conviction should be vacated and that he should be re-sentenced as a result of a change in state law — was convicted along with Ricky Smith for the Jan. 2, 1996, killings of Richard and Donna Landau.
Allison and Smith had agreed to a plan in which Smith would meet with the couple’s 15-year-old son, with whom he was acquainted, and leave the front door unlocked after the boy’s parents went to bed, according to an Oct. 2 ruling from a three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal. Allison would then enter the home through the unlocked door and rob the residents while Smith pretended to be a victim.
Allison gathered the couple together in the hallway, struck Richard Landau on the forehead with a gun and ordered them to lie down on the floor, where Allison ordered Smith to restrain the couple and their son with tape, according to the ruling.
“The defendants also placed plastic bags over the Landaus’ heads. Richard and Donna complained that it was difficult to breathe, at which point one of the defendants fired several gunshots,” killing the couple and wounding their son in the leg, the justices noted.
The boy pretended to be dead and remained still until he was sure the assailants had left and then called police. Jewelry, credit cards, checks and Donna Landau’s checkbook were taken in the robbery.
A lower court judge rejected Allison’s petition to have his murder conviction vacated, finding that he could still be convicted of murder and was ineligible for sentencing.
“Under the new law, to convict a defendant of felony murder, the prosecution must prove that the defendant at a minimum was a major participant in a felony and acted with reckless indifference to human life,” the three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled.
The panel noted in its ruling in October that is “precisely what Allison admitted” under a plea bargain in which he was sentenced to 54 years to life in prison.
Jurors deadlocked in Allison’s first trial and jurors in his second trial convicted him of two counts of first-degree murder and one count each of assault with a firearm, burglary and robbery, but could not reach a verdict on whether special circumstance allegations applied to the murder charges, according to the appellate court panel’s 17-page ruling.
“To avoid a retrial of that issue and a possible sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole, as part of a plea bargain, Allison admitted the truth of the felony-murder special circumstances, and the court found there was a factual basis for the admission and accepted the plea,” Presiding Justice Frances Rothschild wrote on behalf of the appeals court panel.
Smith was sentenced to life in prison for the killings.
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