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California Supreme Court overturns death penalty of Long Beach man

January 9, 2012 | 12:46 pm

The California Supreme Court decided unanimously Monday to overturn the death penalty for a Long Beach man convicted of rape and murder because a prospective juror was improperly removed for having ambivalent views on capital punishment.

In a ruling written by Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar, the state high court said that Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Tomson T. Ong erred when he removed the prospective juror after she said she was uncertain about her position on the death penalty but would impose it if justified.

“To exclude from a capital jury all those who will not promise to immovably embrace the death penalty in the case before them unconstitutionally biases the selection process,” Werdegar wrote.

As long as a potential juror is capable of considering all sentence alternatives, including the death penalty, he or she is qualified to serve on a death penalty case, the court said.

The ruling requires Los Angeles County prosecutors either to ask another jury to sentence Kevin Darnell Pearson to death or to reduce his sentence to life without the possibility of parole. The state high court upholds the vast majority of capital sentences it reviews.

Pearson was convicted of the murder of Penny Sigler, also known as Penny Keptra, who was raped, beaten and robbed of $6 in food stamps after leaving her home to go to the store about 11 p.m. on Dec. 19, 1998. 

Pearson committed the crime with two other men and left the victim, whose right ear was partially torn off, nude and battered near a freeway embankment, the court said.

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-- Maura Dolan

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