gavel.jpgThe California Supreme Court Thursday upheld the death penalty of an Oakland man who killed three people and injured two others when he opened fire on partygoers in an apartment in 1993.

Matthew Souza was 18 at the time of the murders on Dec. 19, 1993.

Souza and his brother, Michael Souza, then 19, and a third man who has never been identified armed themselves with guns and burst into the Oakland apartment party at 5 a.m. in retaliation for an incident in which their mother was forcibly ejected from the party earlier that morning.

Matthew Souza carried a semi-automatic assault rifle, Michael Souza had a shotgun and the third man had a handgun, according to witnesses at the brothers’ trial in Alameda County Superior Court.

In a spray of gunfire, three people were shot and killed with a total of 12 bullets, including the party hostess, Regina Wachtman, 31, and guests Wayne Arnold, 38, and Leslie Trudell, 37. Two others were wounded. A prosecution expert testified the fatal bullets came from the rifle.

Matthew Souza was convicted of three first-degree murders, with the special circumstance of multiple murders, and two attempted murders. He was sentenced to death in Superior Court in 1999.

Michael Souza was also convicted of the murders, under a theory of aiding and abetting the killings, and was sentenced to 29 years to life in prison. A state appeals court upheld his conviction in 2000.

In today’s ruling, the state high court in San Francisco unanimously rejected a series of appeal claims by Matthew Souza, including his argument that the two brothers should have had separate trials.

Each brother claimed at the trial that the other one fired the fatal shots. Matthew Souza contended in his appeal that the joint trial undermined his ability to argue that his brother was the actual killer.

But Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, writing for the court, said that Matthew Souza wasn’t harmed by the joint trial because the evidence tied him to the fatal shots.

“The forensic evidence conclusively supported the prosecution’s contention that the victims were shot with a rifle, and the eyewitnesses placed that rifle in defendant’s hands,” Cantil-Sakauye wrote.

Souza can pursue further appeals through state and federal court habeas corpus petitions. His appeal lawyer, Senior Deputy State Public Defender Delaine Renard, was not immediately available for comment.

Julia Cheever, Bay City News

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