The California Supreme Court today upheld the death sentence of an Oakland man who fatally stabbed a social worker in her home and cut off her finger to obtain her rings in 1988.
Gregory Tate, 43, of Oakland, was convicted in Alameda County Superior Court in 1992 of the murder of Sarah LaChapelle, 56, and sentenced to death the following year.
LaChapelle lived on the same street in East Oakland as Tate’s grandmother, with whom Tate lived.
LaChapelle’s body was discovered by her son, Anthony LaChapelle, on the morning of April 19, 1988. She had a butcher knife embedded in her back, a barbecue fork in her neck and her ring finger cut off.
She was later found to have suffered 24 stab wounds from two knives and an additional 28 puncture wounds.
Tate was arrested later that day in LaChapelle’s stolen Oldsmobile Cutlass, which contained her television and videocassette recorder. His girlfriend later testified he had temporarily given her LaChapelle’s wedding band and engagement ring.
Tate’s first-degree murder conviction and death sentence were unanimously upheld by the state high court in a ruling issued in San Francisco.
The panel rejected a series of appeal claims in which Tate argued there were errors in jury selection, jury instructions and the conduct of prosecutors during his trial in the court of Superior Court Judge Alfred Delucchi.
Justice Marvin Baxter, the author of the opinion, wrote, “The evidence of defendant’s guilt as the lone robber and killer of Sarah LaChapelle was strongly persuasive.”
Tate’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 the state and federal court systems.
Tate’s defense lawyers argued at his trial that there were no eyewitnesses to the crime.
Tate testified at the trial and said he was innocent of the murder. He said he had gone to LaChapelle’s house and had seen two men leave the house and drop a pillowcase containing the stolen TV, recorder and jewelry, which he then picked up.
During the penalty phase of the trial, the defense attorneys argued that he had suffered from an abusive childhood.