William Satele was sentenced to death this week along with partner in crime Daniel Nunez for killing two African Americans in a racially motivated shooting in Harbor City 15 years ago
The California Supreme Court on Monday July 1 affirmed the death penalty for two Wilmington-area gang members convicted of a 1998 double murder in Harbor City, but vacated special gang, firearms and multiple murder allegations in the case. Daniel Nunez and William Satele were convicted of the Oct. 29, 1998, slayings of Renesha Ann Fuller and Edward Robinson, who were shot by a semi-automatic AK-47 assault rifle loaded with armor-piercing, hollow-point bullets. Fuller was just leaving Robinson's townhome at 254th Street and Frampton Avenue around 11 p.m. -- Robinson had walked the 21-year-old woman to her Ford Escort -- when the shots were fired.
Though prosecutors didn't prove which of the two men fired the shots, jurors found them both guilty of murder and also found true special gang, firearms and multiple murder allegations. Long Beach Superior Court Judge Tomson T. Ong sentenced Nunez and Satele to death in September 2000. Supreme Court Justice Joyce L. Kennard, writing the opinion for the higher court, found errors committed during trial.
Instructions to the jury on the gang allegation failed to explain that the jurors must not only find that defendants belonged to a gang, but that they committed the murders for the benefit of the gang or ``with the specific intent to promote, further, or assist in any criminal conduct by gang members,'' according to California law.
``Both defendants in this case were indisputably members of a criminal street gang ..., but ... the evidence did not clearly show that the murders were gang-related,'' according to Kennard.
``The prosecution theorized that the murders were gang-related because they were racially motivated,'' the opinion continued. Kennard noted that Los Angeles police Officer Julie Rodriguez, testifying as a gang expert, said the defendants ``believed that `eliminating African Americans within their community' would `better the gang,' which had an `unwritten rule' that gang members must take advantage of `any opportunity that they have ... to attack an African American.'''
There was no evidence of any prior connection between the victims – a teacher's aide and an administrator for the Los Angeles Unified School District-- and their killers. But the jury rejected a hate crime allegation in the case.
``The jury implicitly rejected the prosecution's theory ... that the killings were gang-related because they were racially motivated,'' according to Kennard.
That also led the higher court to drop the allegation of personal use of a firearm. Prosecutors had told jurors that because the gang allegation was true, each of the men was ``vicariously liable'' for use of the assault rifle. The justices also determined that the trial court had mistakenly allowed the jury to make special allegations of multiple murder for each count of murder.
Defense attorneys argued that the special allegations affected the jury's deliberations during the penalty phase of the trial and asked the higher court to reverse the death sentence for both men. But the court declined.
``These errors had no effect on the admissibility of evidence presented to the jury at either the guilt or the penalty phase of trial, and hence do not require reversal of the judgment of death,'' Kennard wrote.