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Deadlock of Moral Convictions

Justice: Some members of hung juries in capital sentencing trials are frustrated by the requirement for a unanimous vote.

April 12, 1998|GREG HERNANDEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Kalamo Dunzo makes no apology for taking a stand.

More than a year ago, he was one of two jurors who refused to vote in favor of the death penalty for Jonathan D'Arcy, who had doused a Tustin woman with gasoline and ignited it.

After five days of tense deliberations filled with tears and bitterness, a mistrial was declared, and Dunzo left the courthouse feeling ostracized.

"I remember one guy kept saying, 'Why don't you vote with us? What is your problem?' " Dunzo said. "But I would not have been swayed if there had been a million people on the other side."

In the first two death penalty trials held so far this year in Orange County, both juries have deadlocked. A third trial, now underway, is a repeat of an earlier attempt that ended in deadlock.

Several members of those juries said the experience was so excruciating that it has left them wondering whether the jury system really works when it comes to punishment. They say that asking 12 people to agree on guilt or innocence is one thing, but asking them to agree to send an offender to his or her death is another.

Randy Harold believes the system failed last week, when he and 11 other jurors in Orange County Superior Court met to decide the fate of a man who had killed his 2-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son after the breakup of his marriage.

The jury had taken less than an hour to convict David Von Haden of Yorba Linda. But after three agonizing days of deliberations over the penalty, panelists emerged grim-faced from the jury room. They were deadlocked 11 to 1 in favor of death.

"The children had given him their unconditional love, and he betrayed that," said Harold, who voted with the majority. "We weren't able to give them justice."

Eleven jurors, he said, "were unanimous. For one person to be able to negate all of us is really upsetting. There's something really wrong."

Jurors in other cases say the gruesome evidence and emotionally wrenching testimony are difficult enough; the battles in the jury room are worse, particularly when a defendant's life is at stake.

"It was tense, very tense, by the time we disbanded," Dunzo said of the D'Arcy case. "I hoped and prayed I would never have to go through anything like that again."

Dunzo vividly remembers listening to a tape of Karen LaBorde's last words in the hospital. LaBorde named D'Arcy as her attacker and asked the doctor in a panicked and faint voice: "Am I going to die?" Dunzo said he and others were moved to tears.

"I felt so sorry for the victim," he said. "But I felt the murderer was not acting like a normal person. If he got life in prison, I felt that would be enough. The rest is savagery. I think people were overpowered by emotion and the way [LaBorde] was killed."

*

Emily Rowe experienced a death penalty debate from the other side of the table.

She served on the jury that convicted Edward Charles III of killing his parents and brother in 1994 in their Fullerton home, stuffing their bodies in a car and setting it on fire. The jury then deadlocked 11 to 1 in favor of death, with Rowe in the majority.

Rowe said she was annoyed because she thought the holdout juror on her panel was unwilling from the start to consider execution.

"I'm really sorry for the taxpayers," Rowe said. "We were so frustrated. We would go step by step through our thought process, and we asked her to try and convince us. In the end, she just couldn't make that decision."

(A second jury's verdict was thrown out because of juror misconduct. A third jury also deadlocked 11 to 1. An unprecedented fourth penalty trial is set for later this year.)

Rowe said she wonders whether it is appropriate for ordinary citizens to even be involved in deciding a life or death punishment.

"I'm not sure, when it comes down to it, whether the judge shouldn't make that decision," she said. "There are only two choices, and why should a jury have to make that choice? It can be very traumatic."

Laguna Hills resident Dennis Habgood, 41, also was frustrated during the 17 days he spent in jury deliberations trying to determine whether former postal worker Mark Hilbun was sane when he went on a rampage, killing his mother in her home and a co-worker at a Dana Point post office and wounding three others there.

The jury was divided from the start, Habgood said, and ultimately deadlocked 6 to 6.

"It got kind of heated," he said. "It was very stressful at times, because some of the jurors got kind of nasty and it got to personal insults. Half the people thought he was out of his mind and the other half didn't. People would work in teams, going back and forth trying to change the others' minds."

The experience, he said, "changed my [feelings] about the jury system as a whole. I think maybe they should have people more educated in the whole process, like a professional juror."

*

In 1992, Connie Maurer of Orange was a member of a jury that deadlocked 10 to 2 against the death penalty for Gregory Allen Sturm. Sturm, 21, had executed three employees at a Tustin auto parts store where he had worked.

After spending 13 days in deliberations, Maurer said, she was convinced that requiring a dozen people to agree on a punishment was asking for the impossible.

"What are the odds of selecting 12 people to serve on a jury without including one control freak?" asked Maurer, 71. "If 10-2 decisions were accepted, this total control of a few people would be eliminated, as well as a lot of repeat trials."

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