LOS ANGELES (AP) — The California Supreme Court on Monday reversed the death sentence for a man who was convicted of killing a woman who was robbed, raped, tortured and beaten while walking to a Long Beach store to use $6 worth of food stamps.
The state's high court upheld the first-degree murder conviction of Kevin Pearson, 34, but overturned his sentence and ordered a new penalty phase hearing.
The court said that the original judge erred in granting a prosecution request to excuse a potential juror on grounds that she gave conflicting responses when asked whether she could vote for the death penalty in the case.
The woman had said she had no strong feelings about the death penalty and responded at one point, "I'm not sure where I stand,'" according to the Supreme Court's decision.
However, the woman's "vague, indefinite or unformed" views on capital punishment didn't mean she would be unable to follow her jury oath and consider the death penalty in the case, and in fact the woman had said several times that she could vote for death in an appropriate case, the court said.
The court, citing jury instruction errors, also overturned jury findings of special circumstances that Pearson personally used a deadly weapon and that the murder involved torture.
"We will review the ruling to determine our course of action if the case is returned," Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Angeles County district attorney's office, said by email.
Conrad Petermann, an Ojai attorney who argued the case for Pearson before the high court, said he could not immediately comment because he had not finished reading the decision.
Pearson and two other men were convicted of kidnapping, robbing, torturing, raping and killing 43-year-old Penny Sigler, also known as Penny Keptra. Prosecutors said she was attacked on Dec. 29, 1998, near a freeway embankment as she walked to a store with $6 worth of food stamps in her pocket.
Coroner's officials counted 114 separate injuries, including some 25 fractures, according to the state Supreme Court decision.
At his trial, Pearson testified that before the attack, he and two other men had gotten drunk and high from smoking marijuana and drinking beer and a mixture of alcoholic beverages they called "gasoline."
Besides Pearson, Jamelle Armstrong and Warren Hardy were convicted of the killing and sentenced to death.