The California Supreme Court in San Francisco today upheld the death penalty of a Vietnam War veteran who fatally shot a Lassen County sheriff’s deputy who was responding to a domestic violence call.
Dennis Ervine, who won two medals for bravery in Vietnam, was sentenced to death for murdering Deputy Larry Griffith by shooting him with a Winchester rifle on March 2, 1995.
Griffith, a sheriff’s commander and two other deputies had responded to a call in which Ervine’s wife, Julie Ervine, said he had threatened her with a handgun during an argument at their home in Ravendale.
Julie Ervine had escaped from the house and called from a neighbor’s home.
Ervine fired at the officers from an upstairs bedroom of the house.
He was convicted in 1996 in Sacramento Superior Court, where the trial was moved, of murder with three special circumstances that made him eligible for the death penalty.
The special circumstances were murdering a peace officer in the line of duty, committing murder to avoid arrest and lying in wait.
In today’s ruling, the high court’s seven justices unanimously rejected a series of Ervine’s appeal arguments, including a claim that the county sheriff should not have been allowed to give victim impact testimony during the penalty phase of the trial.
The court said victim impact evidence can be given by coworkers and community members as well as by a victim’s family and friends.
Ervine’s direct appeal to the state Supreme Court was the first step in the death penalty appeals process in California. He can now continue appeals through habeas corpus petitions in state and federal courts.