The death-penalty appeal of a man convicted of murdering three elderly women while robbing their homes in San Leandro in 1987 was argued before the California Supreme Court in San Francisco today.
Franklin Lynch, sometimes known as the “Day Stalker,” was convicted in Alameda County Superior Court and sentenced to death in 1992 for the murders of Pearl Larson, 76; Adeline Figuerido, 89; and Anna Constantine, 73, between June and August 1987.
He was also found guilty of robbing two Hayward-area women in August 1987. All five women were beaten in daytime attacks.
Lynch’s lawyers raised an array of arguments in appeal briefs submitted to the court, but today’s hearing focused on one claim.
That claim is Lynch’s contention that he was denied a fair trial because his request to act as his own lawyer was turned down by two Superior Court judges in the fall of 1991.
Deputy State Public Defender Ellen Eggers told the court, “The key to all of this is the defendant’s right to represent himself.”
Eggers argued that under a 1975 U.S. Supreme Court ruling known as the Faretta case, Lynch had an absolute right to act as his own lawyer so long as he made the request knowingly and in a timely way.
Lynch’s request was timely because the earliest possible trial date was at least five weeks away at the time, she said.
Justices Kathryn Werdegar and Ming Chin questioned whether trial judges should have the discretion to consider the complexity of a case when determining whether a request is timely.
Senior Assistant California Attorney General Gerald Engler, representing prosecutors, argued that trial judges should be trusted to make such decisions in individual cases.
Engler noted that there were four large cartons of evidence and 65 potential prosecution witnesses in Lynch’s case and said, “The timeliness is going to depend on the unique circumstances of each individual case.”
The court took the case under submission and the panel’s seven justices now have three months to issue a written decision.
If Lynch loses the appeal, he can continue challenges to his conviction through habeas corpus petitions in the state and federal court systems.