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Death Sentences Upheld for Three Convicted of Halloween Murders of Three Teens in Pasadena

Published on Tuesday, February 1, 2022 | 12:07 pm

The California Supreme Court has upheld the convictions and death sentences of three gang members for the mistaken identity murders of three teenage boys who were walking home from a party in Pasadena on Halloween in 1993.

Karl Holmes, now 47, Herbert McClain, now 53, and Lorenzo Newborn, now 51, were found guilty of first-degree murder for the Oct. 31, 1993, ambush- style slayings of Reggie Crawford and Stephen Coats, both 14, and Edgar Evans, 13.

Jurors found true the special circumstance allegations of lying in wait and multiple murders involving the shootings which took place in the 500 block of North Wilson Ave.

The incident is widely regarded as the incident that forced city officials to admit Pasadena’s gang problem.

In a split ruling Monday, the majority from the state’s highest court noted that the group of teens was “mistaken for gang members and became the target of gunfire” to avenge the shooting death of a fellow gang member earlier that day.

The first jury deadlocked on whether to recommend the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole for the killings, with another jury subsequently recommending in 1996 that the three defendants be sentenced to death.

“Karl Holmes and his fellow gang (members) intentionally extinguished the budding lives of three young men of great promise, then drove away, giving a thumbs-up sign (and) bragging of their deeds,” Superior Court Judge J.D. Smith said in sentencing the three in January 1997.

In a 145-page opinion, the panel’s majority rejected the defendants’ challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence against them, along with a challenge by McClain and Newborn to the special circumstance findings.

“Here, three children perished, all shot during the same short encounter,” Justice Carol A. Corrigan wrote on behalf of the majority, noting that the jury heard from three other children who were fired upon that night, including a 14-year-old boy who was shot in the leg when he left his hiding place to call for his friends and a 13-year-old boy who was shot in the hand.

The panel’s majority found that the judge did not abuse his discretion by requiring the three defendants to wear stun belts during the penalty phase retrial, finding that their “obscene, disruptive, and threatening behavior was sufficient to justify the use of restraints, particularly considering the collective risk posed by three individuals intent on emphasizing their membership in a violent gang.”

In a concurring opinion, Justice Leondra R. Kruger wrote that she would “forthrightly acknowledge that the trial court did not make an adequate record to justify the use of restraints at the penalty phase of this trial,” but that she did not think that references the jury heard about electronic devices that the defendants wore for courtroom security purposes constituted a basis for reversing the judgment.

In his dissenting opinion, Justice Goodwin H. Liu wrote that he “cannot conclude that the use of the stun belts was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt at the penalty retrial,” adding that “the trial court’s disclosure of the stun belts and accompanying explanation that the belts were `security device[s] to assure tranquility in the court, security for everyone,’ `based on things the court knows,’ are plainly prejudicial.”

Liu also wrote that he would reverse the judgment because the “defendants have made a prima facie case of discrimination” involving the prosecutor’s use of half of his peremptory challenges to remove Black women from the jury box.

“The prosecutor may well have had race-neutral reasons for each strike, but we will never know. Instead, we are left with `uncertainty’ where `a direct answer [could have been] obtained by asking a simple question,” Liu wrote, noting that the majority’s opinion held that the defendants “failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination in light of the fact that the seated jury included four Black women.”

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