A state appeals court has upheld the murder conviction of Gabriel Deluca, who bludgeoned and stabbed the postal worker who delivered mail to his Huntington Beach home.
Superior Court Judge Leonard H. McBride had set aside the jury's guilty verdict in the 1984 trial, claiming the prosecution had not shared with defense attorneys a crucial police report about Deluca's behavior after his arrest.
However, the 4th District Court of Appeal said in an opinion handed down Tuesday that prosecutors did not try to hide the report and that it was readily available to defense attorneys if they had just asked for it. The court also said the information in the report was not significant enough to have changed the jury's verdict.
Arrested Day After Crime
The appellate court ruling clears the way for Deluca, 20, to be sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
Deluca, a high school dropout and part-time student at Orange Coast College, was arrested the day after the partially clad body of Ida Jean Haxton was found on the back seat of her mail car in a Costa Mesa church parking lot on Jan. 3, 1984. She had disappeared while making deliveries in the Huntington Beach neighborhood where Deluca lived.
The 30-year-old Garden Grove woman had died of a cerebral hemorrhage from a blow to the back of her head, and she had been stabbed 19 times in the chest, face and back.
Haxton was the first postal carrier ever killed while on duty in Orange County. She is survived by a husband and two sons.
Police had found Deluca's bloody clothes and a baseball bat, sawed in two, stuffed at the bottom of a trash can at his home.
Victim's Blood Found
Bloodhounds flown in from Texas had traced Haxton's path to the curb in front of Deluca's house, and her blood was found on the porch, in the entryway, at the foot of the stairs and on several steps leading to an upstairs bedroom. A hunting knife belonging to Deluca's father was found in Haxton's mail car, along with Deluca's bloody thumbprint and bloody footprints that matched his tennis shoes.
Deluca had been convicted of first-degree murder following a five-week trial in June, 1984, but on the day he was to be sentenced, McBride ordered a new trial after ruling that the prosecution had been "negligent" in failing to share a report by a Huntington Beach jailer.
McBride said at the time of his ruling that he believed Deluca was guilty of murder but that he had no choice but to reverse the jury's guilty verdict.
The report was filed by detention officer David Paig, who had Deluca in his custody for several days after his arrest. It said Deluca was "lucid at times but will become unstable at times."
Defense attorneys argued that if they had known about Paig's report and he had been called to testify, he would have supported their contention that Deluca was in an alcoholic blackout or unconscious fit of rage when he killed Haxton.
Deluca's attorneys had tried to show during the trial that Deluca had suffered brain damage during a 1982 suicide attempt and that he was subject to alcoholic blackouts and episodes of bizarre behavior that he didn't remember.
Defense attorney John P. Dolan said Wednesday that he was "shocked and dismayed at the court's decision and while I haven't had an opportunity to read the opinion, I fully intend to appeal to the state Supreme Court."
Deputy Dist. Atty. Bryan Brown, who prosecuted the case, said, "Obviously we are very elated that we will now be able to sentence Mr. Deluca for the vicious killing."