The California Supreme Court on Monday unanimously affirmed a death verdict in a case prosecuted by Nevada County attorney David Alkire, who served as a Deputy District Attorney in Monterey County at the time of the trial in 2000.
Alkire’s successful prosecution in the Monterey County case involved the shootings of three women during a crime spree in 1998. Two of the women died, and the third suffered severe brain injuries after being shot in the head.
“The defendant, now on death row, shot dead the mother of six children, a total stranger, for the fun of it,” Alkire said. “He wanted to keep up with his crime partner, who had earlier in the evening shot the other two women.”
The state Supreme Court decision upheld the conviction and death sentence of Joseph Kekoa Manibusan, now 34, for the murders of Priya Mathews and Frances Olivo, as well as the attempted murder of Jennifer Aninger.
Co-defendant Norman Willover, a juvenile at the time of the murders, is serving a sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole, according to The Monterey Herald.
According to the ruling, Manibusan was partying with Willover and another man, Adam Tegerdal, staying awake all night and into the day due to methamphetamine use. On Jan. 31, they began driving around Seaside and Monterey, looking for robbery victims.
They spotted Aninger and Matthews walking near the wharf and Willover demanded money, but the two women did not respond. Willover turned back into the car and made a comment, then turned back to the women and shot them both.
The defendants then sped away, and Manibusan later said he “wanted to have his turn.”
At some point, the defendants headed back to Seaside, where they drove up to the third victim, Olivo, and Manibusan shot her three times as she begged him to stop. Manibusan laughed about the shooting as he drove away, “taking it like kind of a game,” according to the court document.
“I know there’s serious debate about whether we should have a death penalty,” Alkire said. “I feel there is some behavior so outside the boundaries of what we consider civilized … that the only appropriate penalty is death. It’s an insult to the victims and the survivors to make them go through the rest of their lives without the closure that only the death penalty provides.”
The appeal focused on a number of issues, most notably that the judge erred in not removing a juror who expressed fear after she realized she and the defendant had a mutual acquaintance. The Supreme Court noted, however, that the juror insisted she was not that concerned and that it would not affect her ability to be impartial.
The appeal also focused on a number of potential jurors who had been removed either for cause or on peremptory challenge, arguing race or gender bias and unequal treatment of death penalty bias.
The Supreme Court ruled that the judge sufficiently explored possible bias among jurors and that Alkire’s peremptory challenges were proper.
“If you had asked me (after the trial) what I thought the big issues would be on appeal, I would never have guessed” they had to do with the jury, Alkire said. “I think one reason is that his guilt was absolutely certain.”
Because the evidence was so unequivocal, Alkire said, the attorney for the appeal was forced to come up with peripheral issues.
Also, in death penalty cases, most of the major legal issues have already been settled, he added.
Alkire expressed satisfaction that every single issue raised in the appeal was shot down — although two judges disagreed with the upholding of a count of aggravated mayhem, although that had no affect on the position of the death penalty.
He noted that all death penalty cases must go to trial and must have an appeal, and said the appeals process is far from over, as Manibusan’s case now goes to appeal at the federal level.
Alkire said he has served both as defense counsel and as prosecutor in death penalty jury trials over the course of his career. In a Los Angeles County trial, his defense of his client led to a sentence of life without parole, rather than death, he noted.
Alkire served as Deputy District Attorney in Monterey County from 1995-2003 and has conducted over 100 jury trials as prosecutor involving homicide, sexual assault, gang shootings, armed robbery, residential burglary and embezzlement.
To contact City Editor Liz Kellar, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4229.