THE BRUTAL MURDER OF A 10-YEAR-OLD GIRL, WITH OVER 60 WOUNDS, LACKED PREMEDITATION ACCORDING TO AN OLD CALIFORNIA SUPREME COURT CASE

WHEN IS A MURDER DEEMED TO BE PREMEDITATED?

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Humans are creatures of passions and altered mental states which range from reflective to subconscious and below; where substantive criminal law is concerned, deliberation equates into planning and forethought of the consequences of your acts and to whether these acts will accomplish what you intend them to. It is not the length of time one plans his actions. Instead it is the lack of impulsivity, rashness, design, motive, and defendant’s own consideration of his acts that determines whether they are premeditated acts or something less egregious under the law. The law distinguishes between mere intentional acts and those that are premeditated because the former has always been considered less evil than the latter. But this doesn’t really explain the difference between the two terms. I thought it would be helpful to illustrate the distinction by considering an actual (and unfortunate) case that happened in 1962 in California. The law may be different today, and the case is cited mainly to show how seriously the courts consider the meaning and distinction of words often casually used in other areas.

In this case, the defendant, Robert Arthur Anderson, was indicted for the murder of Victoria Hammond, a 10-year-girl. The facts are basically lifted from an appellate case involving the defendant’s appeal. Anderson was living with the victim, her brother and sister, and their mother. While the mother was at work, and the other two children were at school, the defendant brutally murdered the young girl; the brother arrived back from school and ultimately discovered his sister’s body and the police were called. The court captured the gruesome scene as follows:

The arresting officer found Victoria’s body on the floor near her bed. He found defendant’s blood-spotted shorts on a chair in the living room, and a knife and defendant’s socks, with blood encrusted on the soles, in the master bedroom. The evidence established that the victim’s torn and blood-stained dress had been ripped from her, that her clothes, including her panties out of which the crotch had been cut, were found in various rooms of the house, that there were bloody footprints, matching the size of the victim’s leading from the master bedroom to Victoria’s room, and that there was blood in almost every room including the kitchen, the floor of which appeared to have been mopped.

Over 60 wounds, both severe and superficial, were found on Victoria’s body. The cuts extended over her entire body, including one extending from the rectum through the vagina, and the partial cutting off of her tongue. Several of the wounds, including the vaginal lacerations, were post mortem. No evidence of spermatozoa was found in the victim, on her panties, or on the bed next to which she was found.

The jury was instructed on two theories of first-degree murder, and other counts, but only the instruction concerning premeditation is relevant here. The defendant was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. The main issue to be decided by the court on appeal was whether the evidence supported such a conviction and the focus of the court turned on the meaning of premeditation. The court determined the evidence did not rise to the level of first degree premeditated murder. In reaching this conclusion, the court generally noted that “the brutality of killing cannot in itself support a finding that the killer acted with premeditation and deliberation.” Indeed, the court found that such evidence was “totally lacking” in this case.

The court noted that in order for a killing to be considered premeditated, “the intent to kill must be . . . formed on a pre-existing reflection . . . [and have] been the subject of actual deliberation or forethought. . .”. Continuing, the court said the “deliberate judgment or plan; [of the defendant, must be] carried on cooly (sic) and steadily, [especially] according to a preconceived design.” (The court was quoting from prior court decisions). In summary, the court listed three categories which are relevant when determining whether premeditation exists: (1) The level of “planning activity”; (2) whether, based upon the prior relationship history, between the victim and the defendant, there was a motive for the killing; and (3) whether the nature of the killing was so particular and exacting that the jury could infer a “preconceived design” to take the victim’s life in a “particular way” for “a reason” inferred from the facts of categories (1) or (2). The court concluded that these factors were not present in this case and reduced the conviction from first-degree murder to second degree. The court essentially determined there was a lack of planning, or the existence of a significant relationship which would establish a motive, and the nature of the killing, and the manner of the murder did not create a deliberate and calculated (and intended) result. In other words, the evidence did not prove that the defendant’s actions were not rash or impulsive.

Frequently, in many instances, as the state attempted to prove in this case, there is evidence to support that the defendant was motivated by his sexual impulses; but in this case, such an inference would only have been speculative. Moreover, there was not a factual basis to show that the victim was killed during the commission of an illegal sexual act, a fact pattern which would also establish first-degree murder (there are many other ways to reach first-degree murder not covered here).

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