In January 1992, James Byrd and Anthony Martz came to Stockton, California, for a night of sex, drugs, and presumably, rock n’ roll.
Benny Gray and Jackie Don White saw them coming and marked them as soft targets. In the end, no one got what he wanted and everyone got more than he could handle.
Byrd and Martz, loaded with marijuana, methamphetamines and little cash, rented a hotel room at the Crest Motel on Wilson Way in Stockton and set out to find some hookers.
They met TJ Ponton and Alicia Hinojos in the parking lot of the motel and the four went into the room to conduct some business. The men hoped to trade the dope for sex, but TJ and Alicia would only put out for cocaine, heroin or cash.
After a while, TJ left to turn a trick and Martz went out in search of another lady who would work for pot or meth.
TJ returned after a while, armed with a linoleum cutter, which Byrd, who was packaging meth and pot to sell (so he could get some cash to hook up with Alicia) took from her.
While Byrd was assembling his goods, a couple of TJ’s friends, Benny Gray and Charles Herbert, showed up looking for her. She chatted with them for awhile and invited them into Byrd’s room.
Gray, Herbert and Byrd talked about the possibility of trading drugs for money or guns and Gray and Herbert left.
Byrd told TJ that next time they came back, only one of them would be allowed inside the room at a time. The three of them then headed out on the town so the girls could score some drugs and Byrd could sell his product.
They returned about an hour later and met up with Martz.
TJ and Alicia had found some heroin and were in the bathroom fixing it when Gray, armed with a pistol, Herbert, who carried a bat, and Jackie Don White, who had a stun gun, burst into the hotel room and ordered Byrd and Martz to the ground.
While Gray stood over them with the gun, White zapped Byrd with the stun gun and demanded money. He then pummeled Martz and shocked him with the stun gun twice.
The girls came out of the bathroom and helped in the search, tearing the room apart while the men continued to beat the victims.
Byrd and Martz finally told their attackers to look in the truck, and Herbert left to search it. He returned, unsuccessful, and the beatings resumed.
Martz directed him to look under the seat, but Herbert came back empty-handed again.
Gray then cocked the pistol, which he had pointed at Byrd.
As Gray looked to White and Herbert for agreement to proceed, Byrd, who described himself as “a pretty good wrestler” in high school, grabbed Gray and fought with him for control of the gun. Both men had their fingers on the trigger and a shot exploded from the weapon, lodging in the floor.
As the working girls and Herbert fled the room, Byrd managed to get the gun pointed toward Gray’s neck and it went off.
Gray fell to the floor and Byrd held White at bay while he and Martz retreated from the room.
The cops showed up and Byrd handed over the weapon. White told the police that he and his friends had been there simply to buy some pot.
Gray was lying on the ground, spitting up blood. The officers asked him who shot him and he pointed at Byrd.
“That guy right there,” were his last words.
After the police sorted things out, Jackie Don White was charged with Gray’s murder and subsequently convicted.
“Huh, how?” you ask?
The killing of an accomplice by a victim or peace officer is not a killing which occurs “in the perpetration of” the underlying felony, as required to invoke the felony-murder doctrine.
Under California law, murder is “the unlawful killing of a human being, with malice aforethought.” Malice is implied when the defendant or an accomplice “for a base, antisocial motive and with wanton disregard for human life, does an act that involves a high degree of probability that it will result in death.”
The California Supreme Court ruled that initiating a gun battle is such an act.
The law goes on to say that “When the defendant or his accomplice, with a conscious disregard for life, intentionally commits an act that is likely to cause death, and his victim or a police officer kills in reasonable response to such act, the defendant is guilty of murder.”
In White’s case, the California Court of Appeals termed it this way:
There are two components to the provocative act theory: first, did defendant or a surviving accomplice commit life-threatening provocative acts beyond those necessary to commit the robbery? Second, did those acts impel the victim to kill, i.e., were they the proximate cause of death?
White claimed all he did was shock the defendants with the stun gun, which is not designed to kill. The court rejected this argument out-of-hand: “A beating with a baseball bat combined with the use of a stun gun is the use of deadly force,” the opinion reads.
White’s conviction was upheld on appeal.
This sad story gets even sadder when nine years after his trial, White’s case was used to demonstrate the dark underbelly of the legal profession: the so-called “writ mill.”
The U.S. District Court lambasted Richard H. Dangler, Jr., who preyed on inmates and their families (an extremely dangerous proposition) and promised them appellate relief that was never even a possibility.
“Simply stated, the attorney not only took money from these inmates and their families under false pretenses, he gave them false hope that they had some possibility of success–hope that we must now dash because, as even the attorney concedes, the writ petitions are doomed to fail,” the court wrote about Dangler.
During the hearing, this court’s questioning of witnesses revealed that Dangler has for some time been operating a writ mill, in which attorneys and essentially unsupervised law students have written petitions for writs of habeas corpus for filing in state and federal courts under Dangler’s name. Dangler signed a great number of the petitions without reading them, and on some occasions a clerical employee signed Dangler’s name on the petitions. Dangler generally received a $7,250 retainer to pursue habeas corpus relief. He paid law students up to $2,000 for their virtually unsupervised work on a client’s case, or paid attorneys up to $2,500 per client.
White and the others victimized by Dangler may be criminals, but that doesn’t give the rest of society the right to take a piece of them. There should be a special place in the afterlife for people who egregiously peddle false hope.