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 degree murder.
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 for life."
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 defense. The Law Office of Nicolai Cocis and Associates, offering legal guidance in Riverside County, including the cities of Murrieta, Temecula, Lake Elsinore, Menifee, Wildomar, Perris, Banning, Hemet, Corona and Riverside, will aggressively fight for your rights, while providing you with individualized, professional attention.