The California Supreme Court has upheld the death sentence for a San
Pedro man convicted of carjacking and killing two Marymount College
exchange students 15 years ago.
The court announced Thursday it had rejected defense
claims challenging the sentence of Raymond Oscar Butler, who was
convicted in 1996 of killing 19-year-old film students Takuma Ito and Go
Matsuura on March 24, 1994.
Ito and Matsuura were shot to death in the Ralphs
supermarket parking lot on Western Avenue in San Pedro. Ito was a
Japanese citizen and Matsuura was American but grew up in Japan.
The killings created headlines in Japan, shocking
Japanese citizens and embarrassing the United States. President Bill
Clinton apologized to Japanese Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa for the
deaths on his country's soil.
A Long Beach Superior Court jury of seven men and
five women convicted Butler of two counts each of first-degree murder,
second-degree robbery and carjacking, along with special allegations of
multiple murders and that the crimes were
committed during the commission of a robbery.
Judge James Pierce imposed the
jury's later recommendation that Butler, now 34, should face the death
Ito and Matsuura became victims when they stopped in
the parking lot after dining at a Gardena restaurant with two friends.
They were trying to decide where the friends would stay during spring
break while their campus in Rancho Palos Verdes was closed.
Butler approached them, demanded Ito's wallet,
ordered him to lie on the ground and shot him in the back of the head.
He then fired several times into the car, striking
Matsuura in the head at close range.
Butler drove away in Ito's 1994 Honda Civic, which
was found the next day. Butler was arrested a few days later.
Defense attorneys claimed Pierce erred when he
directed jurors to continue deliberations on two occasions when they
said they were deadlocked.
One of the 12 jurors was holding out for a not-guilty
verdict when the panel was sent back after the second deadlock. A
unanimous verdict was reached the next morning.
The Supreme Court also said Pierce committed no other
substantial errors in handling the case.
Butler received a second death sentence in 1998 for
helping two men kill a fellow inmate in county jail while awaiting his
trial in the Ito and Matsuura case.
The sentence in the March 26, 1995, slaying of Tyrone
Flemming, 23, of Los Angeles remains on appeal.
S.C. Reverses Death Sentence for
Jail Inmate’s Killing
Says Defendant Should Have Been
Allowed to Defend Himself
By Kenneth Ofgang -
Monday, December 11, 2009
convicted of killing a fellow Los Angeles County Jail inmate is entitled
to a new trial because the judge wrongfully prevented him from
representing himself, the California Supreme Court ruled yesterday.
Raymond Oscar Butler was denied his Sixth Amendment right to counsel,
under the self-representation standard set forth in Faretta v.
California (1975) 422 U.S. 806, Justice Carol Corrigan wrote in a
June, the high court unanimously affirmed Butler’s conviction and death
sentence in a separate case, People v. Butler (2009) 46 Cal.4th
847. The sentence in that case was for the murders of two college
students from Japan during a 1994 carjacking in the parking lot of a San
1995, while awaiting trial for those murders—of which he was convicted
the following year—Butler was charged with the first degree murder of
Flemming was beaten and stabbed multiple times as he and other inmates
were being moved to showers the morning of March 26. Witnesses said that
Butler started the fight, then Paul
Gornick began stabbing Flemming, and that
Butler then took the same knife and stabbed Flemming several more times.
Butler admitted being involved in the
fight, which stemmed from an ongoing feud between Gornick and Flemming
over an allegedly stolen address book and supposed threats by Flemming
against Gornick’s family. Butler said Gornick was planning to attack
Flemming and had used a fabricated handcuff key to keep his stabbing
Butler said he only participated in
the fight because he would have been seen as a coward otherwise, and
that he had not stabbed anyone.
Although he was represented by
counsel at his first trial, he filed a handwritten motion asserting his
constitutional right to represent himself without counsel.” The
prosecutor said that Butler might be seeking pro per status in order to
gain additional jail privileges, but acknowledged that he had a right to
judge hearing the case at the time granted the motion.
January 1996, however, citing the Flemming stabbing and other
disciplinary violations, including three incidents of possessing razor
blades, the county moved to terminate Butler’s use of the law library,
saying he was too dangerous to be allowed contact with other inmates and
staff. The judge agreed, saying Butler could continue to defend himself
through access to legal forms and supplies, a legal runner, and advisory
October 1996, subsequent to his conviction in the first case, Butler
appeared before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge J.D. Smith, who was
newly assigned to the Flemming murder case. The judge expressed doubt
that Butler could continue to defend himself, saying it was “pretty
obvious with this type of situation that pro per status is probably
going to be revoked,” but put the matter over for about six weeks.
the next hearing, after the prosecutor recounted all of the incidents
involving Butler at the jail, including a recent one in which a knife
was found in his rectum, revoked his pro per status and appointed his
advisory/standby counsel to represent him in the balance of the
Butler subsequently sought, in written papers and at court hearings, to
regain his right of self-representation, and in September 1997, the
judge agreed. But a month later, at a hearing at which Butler complained
he had not received all of his discovery material, Smith again revoked
his pro per status.
defendant’s standby lawyer explained that while Butler had received all
of the discovery relating to the stabbing, which was a major part of the
penalty phase in the previous trial, jail personnel had insisted that
the rest of the material was too voluminous to be given to Butler at one
responded that this illustrated why the defendant could not represent
is not unique to your client. This is the pro per problem. You have a
pro per that is in for another case; and the jail is a jail, it is not a
law library. They restrict what you can do there. That is why it just
doesn’t make sense to do that. In any event, I will just put you back on
the case. You have had some time to work on at least the guilt phase.
You can take a look at that and if we need to . . . we will take a short
delay to look at the penalty phase. We will not be starting that right
selection began a week later. Butler was convicted of first degree
murder and sentenced to death.
Corrigan, however, said the court was compelled by Faretta and
its progency to reverse.
pro per status may be denied or terminated due to “serious and
obstructionist misconduct,” failure to make a timely and unequivocal
request for self-representation, acquiescence in appointment of counsel,
or severe mental illness, Corrigan noted, the trial judge based his
order solely on the restrictive conditions of the defendant’s
“Restrictions on pro. per. privileges in custody are not unusual,” the
justice wrote. “They have never been deemed a justification for
depriving inmates of the right to represent themselves.”
Corrigan further noted that the restrictions did not preclude Butler
from representing himself, given that he had advisory counsel and access
to legal documents and discovery materials.
is established that the effectiveness of a self-represented
defendant’s preparation is ordinarily irrelevant,” Corrigan wrote.
“Defendants untrained in the law may well provide themselves with inept
representation,” the justice added. “But Faretta gives them the
right to make a thoroughly disadvantageous decision to act as their own
counsel, so long as they are fully advised and cognizant of the risks
and consequences of their choice.”
Justice Ronald M. George and Justices Joyce L. Kennard, Kathryn M.
Werdegar and Carlos Moreno concurred.
Justice Ming Chin, joined by Justice Marvin Baxter, dissented. Chin
argued that the trial judge acted properly “under the extreme
circumstances the case presents.”
emphasized that the restrictive conditions of Butler’s confinement were
the result of the defendant’s own actions, as proven during the penalty
phase of the first trial.
cited Indiana v. Edwards (2008) 128 S.Ct. 2379, in which the
court held that a defendant who was severely mentally ill, but competent
to stand trial, could be denied the right to represent himself.
acknowledged that the case was not directly on point, but seized on the
high court’s statement that “self-representation at trial will not
‘affirm the dignity’ of a defendant who lacks the mental capacity to
conduct his defense without the assistance of counsel.”
dissenting jurist argued that the court “should be similarly unconcerned
with affirming the dignity of a defendant who is already under a
sentence of death, and who is personally responsible for the actions
that made him such a security risk that he could not effectively defend
Corrigan, who said in a footnote that counsel for both sides had agreed
that Edwards was irrelevant to Butler’s situation, wrote that
while the U.S. Supreme Court might be “well advised” to reconsider its
precedent, “this court is not empowered to narrow the established scope
of a federal constitutional right.”
case was argued by Deputy State Public Defender Jessica K. McGuire for
the defendant and Deputy Attorney General Jason C. Tran for the state.
case is People v. Butler, 09 S.O.S. 7001.