VISTA — Attorneys for a former Camp Pendleton Marine convicted of brutally murdering a young mother have requested a new trial due to prejudicial error, and juror and prosecutorial misconduct.
In two recent court filings, Threats attorneys, Deputy Public Defender Wil Rumble and James Weintre, cited a handful of misconducts by the jury panel as they deliberated the death verdict, prejudicial misconduct relating to comments prosecutor Patrick Espinoza made during the trial, and an erred ruling by Superior Court Judge K. Michael Kirkman as their reasons for requesting a new trial.
A March 26 hearing was set, at which time Rumble and Weintre will bring their motion for a new trial in front of the court.
Because of the court’s gag order placed on the attorneys, Espinoza as well as Rumble and Weintre were not available to comment on the aforementioned court filings.
Last December, a Vista jury deliberated six days before returning a verdict of death for Derlyn Ray Threats, 28, for the murder of Carolyn Rebecca Neville in her Vista home more than four year’s ago.
Neville’s body was found by police in her living room on Diablo Place around 9 a.m. Sept. 1, 2005. Police contacted Threats a few houses away with a pair of bloody socks, a stun gun and hammer handle.
Prosecutors alleged the murder was a result of a burglary interrupted that escalated into a robbery when Neville, 24, returned home after dropping off her son at elementary school. However, Threats’ attorneys argued that their client entered the house with convicted felon James “Tony” Brown, a next-door neighbor of the Nevilles, and it was Brown who inflicted the fatal wounds.
The jury panel of eight men and four women didn’t buy the defense and found Threats guilty in November of first-degree murder, residential robbery and residential burglary. The jury also found true two special circumstance allegations that the murder involved torture, and it was committed during a robbery or burglary.
In his motion brief, Rumble said Kirkman’s ruling to initially prohibit and then later allow limited third party evidence pertaining to Brown “gutted” Threats’ defense. He said the ruling deprived Threats of a “meaningful opening statement, cross examination of plaintiff’s witnesses, and harmed his right to present a defense.”
Rumble went on to state: “Without mentioning Brown, the defense’s opening statement pointing to another unnamed perpetrator deprived Mr. Threats of preparing the jury to more readily discern the materiality, force, and meaning of the evidence pointing to Brown. Without it, from the very beginning of the case, the jury was likely to see another’s involvement as an imaginary defense, view defendant’s attorneys with a level of mistrust, and deprive them of an ability to understand any of the questions relating to James Brown before the court modified admission.”
Ultimately, the ruling had a negative effect on the jury’s perception of the defense and their case, Rumble said. The prosecution then capitalized on “the shroud of the imaginary defense” by arguing the counsel for Threats was “racist, thus, illegitimate,” he said.
As an example, Rumble pointed to this statement in Espinoza’s closing argument: “Why did they pick on Mr. Brown? It wasn’t the content of the evidence, ladies and gentleman. It was the color of his skin. That’s why they picked on Mr. Brown. Ladies and gentlemen, that is offensive. That’s offensive that they are going to try to pin murder on someone else who we know didn’t do it. It’s impossible. Instead, they are engaging in imaginary folks jumping out windows to pin it on the guy, not because of the content of the evidence but because of the color of his skin.”
Rumble said the statement appealed to the “passions” and “prejudice” of the jury. “It asked the jury to be offended by Mr. Threats’ defense,” the attorney stated. “It argued that defense counsel is racist, and asked the jury to be offended by Mr. Threats’ counsel.”
Threats’ attorneys also allege juror misconduct in their client’s capital case. In his second motion brief for a new trial, Rumble said that the facts about the panel’s misconduct were taken from a juror’s declaration, which revealed a litany of violations during the deliberations that included considering the defendant’s failure to testify and refusing to deliberate on the involvement of Brown.
One juror payed his bills and made arrangements with another juror to adopt a puppy during breaks, which spilled over into deliberations, according to the court document. Another juror described for the panel how after hearing testimony from an expert witness, he hit a box with a hammer to see what kind of marks it made.
Jurors also said they wished California was more like Texas, adding that the criminal justice system was not tough enough, according to the motion brief. In regard to Threats not testifying, one juror said, “If I was going to die, I’d be up on the stand.” While two other jurors said things such as, “Be a man, get up there.”
Rumble said the panel’s deliberations violated their oaths, declaration, promises and jury instructions, adding that the prosecutor even warned the jury of a mistrial if they discussed Threats not testifying.
“This misconduct goes against everything this country stands for,” Rumble said. “The rule of law evaporated. The presumption of prejudice can not be reused, and the defendant is entitled to a new trial.”