SACRAMENTO — The California Supreme Court refused to rehear the appeal of a woman convicted of murdering homeless men for their life insurance policies, putting an end to a case that has dragged through the court system for almost four years.
California’s highest court refused to overturn a decision convicting former Santa Monica landlord Helen Golay in October citing overwhelming evidence linking her to the deaths of two homeless men in 1999 and 2005.
Her attorney, Roger Diamond, asked for a rehearing after the decision because the 17-page court document did not cite information presented by the defense.
It was a longshot, Diamond acknowledged, and one that did not pan out.
“It’s very rare that they would grant a rehearing,” Diamond said. “It’s an option I could take and chose to do so because in my case they did not decide the major issue which they waited two and a half years to decide.”
That “major issue” had to do with the Constitution’s confrontation clause. The Sixth Amendment guarantees defendants the right to confront their accuser, something Diamond believes was violated when the prosecution called the supervisor of lab technicians to testify to lab results rather than the person that conducted the tests.
The issue has flummoxed the U.S. Supreme Court as well.
The Supreme Court decided in the 2009 case Melendez-Diaz vs. Massachusetts that forensic evidence could be manipulated, and wasn’t the inviolate scientific evidence that crime labs represent it to be.
Although an honest analyst wouldn’t alter his or her testimony when forced to confront a defendent, “the same cannot be said of the fraudulent analyst,” wrote Justice Antonin Scalia in an opinion.
A subsequent decision in Bullcoming vs. New Mexico held that an analyst who did not personally handle or observe the test couldn’t testify in court unless the defendant had an opportunity to confront them.
The last case, Williams vs. Illinois, was decided only after the California Supreme Court took up Golay’s appeal.
Four Supreme Court justices held that the testimony of a forensic biologist did not violate the Sixth Amendment. Justice Stephen Breyer agreed, but on different grounds and wrote his own analysis.
The four remaining justices disagreed.
Both Diamond and the prosecutor on the case, Deputy Attorney General David Madeo, hoped that the California Supreme Court would rule on the confrontation issue in the Golay case as it had on two others before it in order to provide clarity.
That did not happen, which disappointed Diamond.
“It was an interesting case and I did the best I could, but in the view of the state Supreme Court the evidence was overwhelming,” he said.