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Breaking Legal Developments


Published by:
Peter A. Lynch, Esq.
of Cozen O'Connor


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:      This weekly newsletter covers:

  1. California Court Affirms Conviction for Setting Fire to Spouse Guilty of Torture


In People v. Baker, No. G028224 (May 30, 2002), the Fourth Appellate District, Division Three reviewed the defendant's conviction for torture. He claimed a lack of evidence to prove he had the intent to cause cruel or extreme pain and suffering for the purpose of revenge, etc.

The defendant had doused his wife with gasoline and lit her on fire causing second and third degree burns over her extremities resulting in disfigurement. The defendant claimed it was an accident as a result of a botched suicide attempt. The defendant thought has wife would leave him. He regularly followed her, bought her a cell phone to keep track of her and hid her identification papers. He also told her if she tried to leave him he would attempt suicide. They separated but the defendant kept her identification papers. The victim advised she wanted a divorce. The defendant returned with gasoline and doused her. He ignited her hair and she was subsequently horribly burned.

The defendant stood by and watched but did not intervene. The defendant contended he accidentally spilled the gasoline on her while attempting to commit suicide. Baker directs his challenge to the second element. He contends he did not have the requisite intent to cause Jasmine cruel or extreme pain and that she was burned accidentally in his failed suicide attempt. We disagree.

"Intent is a state of mind. A defendant's state of mind must, in the absence of the defendant's own statements, be established by the circumstances surrounding the commission of the offense." (People v. Mincey, supra, 2 Cal.4th at p. 433; see People v. Hale (1999) 75 Cal.App.4th 94, 106 ["Intent to cause cruel or extreme pain can be established by the circumstances of the offense"].) Here, both the circumstances and Baker's own statements establish the requisite intent to cause Jasmine cruel or extreme pain and suffering. Jasmine testified that when she asked Baker about her missing papers when he returned home on February 17, he became angry and told her, "Problems for you." She testified Baker left the apartment and returned about ten minutes later with a rope and a container of gasoline (which Jasmine thought was lemon punch). When Jasmine asked Baker why he had bought lemon punch he said, "You'll see, you'll soon see." When she asked him what he intended to do with the rope, he replied, "I'm mad, very mad."

Jasmine graphically described and physically demonstrated how Baker forcibly held her by the waist with his left hand, poured gasoline over her head with his right hand, discarded the plastic container, used both hands to drag her toward the stove, fumbled to turn on the stove, and ultimately used a lighter to set her hair on fire. Jasmine described the sensation of burning hair and her frantic efforts to quench the flames with dishwater - while Baker did nothing but watch her burn. Concepcion gave virtually the same description of events.

The duty officer testified that when Baker appeared at the Downey Police Department on the evening of February 17, he wanted to "turn himself in." Baker explained he had thrown gasoline on his wife and set her on fire because she wanted to divorce him. The officer who accompanied Baker to the hospital heard Baker tell the admissions nurse he burned his hands when he lit his wife on fire, and heard his spontaneous comments that he "must have been crazy" and would plead insanity.

In addition, Jasmine's scarring and disfigurement constitute strong circumstantial evidence of intent to inflict severe pain and suffering. (See People v. Mincey, supra, 2 Cal.4th at pp. 433-434 ["The condition of the victim's body may establish circumstantial evidence of the requisite intent"].)

Evidence of Baker's wrongful purpose is present too. Jasmine testified (as did Baker's first wife) that Baker was a controlling husband who was terrified his wife would leave him. Baker testified he angrily left the apartment on February 17 after he thought he heard Concepcion say, "divorce him" and Jasmine reply, "yes." The duty officer and the officer who accompanied Baker to the hospital heard him say he set his wife on fire out of anger because she was going to divorce him. A logical conclusion is that Baker returned to the apartment and set Jasmine on fire either as revenge for considering divorce or to persuade her not to pursue divorce.

The record viewed as a whole thus contains sound, credible evidence that amply supports the conclusion Baker intended to cause Jasmine cruel or extreme pain with the requisite intent and purpose.

Mr. Lynch can be reached at Cozen and O'Connor, 501 West Broadway, Suite 1610, San Diego, California 92101, 800-782-3366 (voice), 619-234-7831 (fax), (e-mail), Follow us on Twitter at @firesandrain.

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