A state appeals court panel Monday ordered the case of two men convicted of the 1999 killing of an Altadena woman, who was the aunt of one of the defendants, to be sent back to a Los Angeles judge.
The three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal reversed Superior Court Judge Stephen A. Marcus’ order denying petitions by Nathan Sheard and his then-roommate, David Emanuel Talmadge, for re-sentencing under a new state law, and instructed the judge to “conduct further proceedings.”
The two were convicted in 2002 of first-degree murder for the April 1999 slaying of Sheard’s widowed 72-year-old aunt, Gertrude Mills. Jurors found true the special circumstance allegations of murder during the commission of a residential burglary and robbery against the two, who are serving sentences of life without the possibility of parole.
In a pair of rulings involving the two defendants, the appellate court panel noted that Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies found Mills in her bathtub, bound and fully clothed, submerged in water with a portable heater on top of her body after Sheard was arrested for driving her vehicle without a license. He had told a Burbank police officer that she was “on a little vacation,” the panel noted.
An autopsy subsequently determined that the woman had sustained head injuries from multiple strikes with a blunt object and multiple rib fractures consistent with having been repeatedly kicked or stomped, but the report indicated that the blows may not have immediately been fatal and that she may have drowned after being placed in the bathtub with the heater on her chest, according to the panel’s ruling in Sheard’s case.
Attorneys for the two men contended that the judge erred in denying their petitions for re-sentencing without holding an evidentiary hearing to determine whether they were eligible for relief under the new state law, which affects defendants in some murder cases.
The appellate court justices agreed with the defense’s contention in its latest appeal that the lower court erred in ruling that the defendants’ petitions were precluded as a result of the jury’s findings on the special circumstances.