The case of defendant, R. Johnson, is not so much a mystery as it is a
matter of the nuances of criminal law. Johnson was found to be the "mastermind"
of a 2009 home-invasion robbery in San Luis Obispo County, during which
one of Johnson's accomplices was killed by the intended victim. Johnson
was never present at the crime scene, but was nonetheless convicted of
first degree murder, conspiracy and several other felonies.
Johnson was sentenced to 26 years in prison. The conviction was based on
a legal concept called the
provocative act murder doctrine, wherein a defendant may be tried for murder if his actions created the
situation which led to the person's death. Johnson appealed his conviction,
which was heard by California's Second District Court of Appeal, stating
that there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction of first
The facts of this case are that in 2009, the intended victim, P. Davis,
lived in Los Osos, in San Luis Obispo County. Davis had a physician's
recommendation for medical marijuana and grew marijuana plants in his
backyard. Johnson, the defendant, knew Davis and on July 18, 2009 told
an informant that he "…and his homies are taking care of something
and we are going to come up big." Johnson told the informant that
"…they were taking care of somebody that was selling pot in
Los Osos, and that the person had no business doing business like that
in our town." Johnson further told the informant that he and two
accomplices were "going to take care of Davis' pot and that they
had a gun." They intended to use the gun during the robbery and Johnson
boasted to the informant that "he was running things and that he
was the shot caller."
Later that same day, Johnson's accomplices, K. Alvarez and J. Baker-Riley,
arrived at Davis' home and knocked on the door. Davis opened the door
and the accomplices pulled out a large firearm and pointed it at Davis'
face. The accomplices demanded cash and marijuana, while continually pointing
the gun at Davis and threatening to kill him if he "did anything."
Baker-Riley and Alvarez then ordered Davis at gunpoint to a back bedroom
and told him to sit on the bed. Davis pleaded for the accomplices not
to kill him and to "take what you want." Davis later told police
that he thought he was going to die. Davis, who had his own firearm next
to the bed, picked it up and shot Alvarez in the chest, and killed him.
Johnson argued that there was insufficient evidence to convict him of Alvarez'
death, because "he did not personally harbor malice," and because
the People failed to show "that he harbored a deliberate and premeditated
intent to kill."
In its decision to affirm Johnson's conviction, the Court cited the case of
People v. Gonzalez, and explained that under the provocative act murder doctrine, when the
perpetrators of a crime maliciously commit an act that is likely to result
in death, and the intended victim kills in a reasonable response to that
act, the perpetrators are guilty of murder. In such a case, the killing
is attributable, not only to the commission of a felony, but to the intentional
act of the defendant or his accomplices committed with conscious disregard
The Court further explained that a participant in the underlying crime
who does not actually commit a provocative act himself, in this case the
home-invasion robbery of Davis, the defendant may nevertheless be vicariously
liable for the death caused by his accomplice based upon having aided
and abetted the commission of the underlying crime. The Court found sufficient
evidence that Johnson aided and abetted the commission of the home-invasion,
having acted as the "shot caller" or "mastermind"
of the robbery itself.
The Court clarified "that Johnson was the 'mastermind' of
the home-invasion robbery. He sent his accomplices to do his bidding and
knew that they were going to use a gun to accomplish his goals. To say
that Johnson could not have reasonably anticipated the killing is a premise
which, to put it bluntly, is far-fetched. Allowing a 'mastermind'
to escape liability for murder while his accomplice (Baker-Riley) suffers
a first degree murder conviction would be inconsistent and unfair. It
could also encourage a criminal planner to employ accomplices to do his
bidding in his absence to shield himself from the application of the provocative
act murder doctrine."
Any case involving multiple defendants accused of a violent crime can be
confusing and complex. Finding an experienced attorney is crucial to your
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