The California Supreme Court in San Francisco today reinstated the second-degree murder conviction of a man who fatally stabbed his former girlfriend in 2000 after a two-year history of domestic violence.
Tare Beltran, 40, also known as Tare Ramirez, was convicted in San Francisco Superior Court in 2008 of killing 28-year-old Claire Tempongko in her basement apartment in the city’s Richmond District on Oct. 22, 2000.
However, a 2011 Court of Appeals decision overturned the conviction and ordered a new trial, ruling that there were errors in the jury instructions on the standards for a voluntary manslaughter conviction.
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Ramirez has admitted killing Tempongko but claimed his crime should be classified as voluntary manslaughter because he acted in the heat of passion. He said he became enraged when he learned Tempongko had become pregnant with his child and had an abortion.
State law allows a homicide to be classified as voluntary manslaughter when the slaying is provoked by “a sudden quarrel or heat of passion.”
Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Laurence asked the state Supreme Court in March to uphold Superior Court Judge Robert Dondero’s jury instructions, which implied that a jury must find that an average person would be provoked into committing a lethal act.
Linda Leavitt, Beltran’s attorney in the appeal, argued that a jury should be told that the provocation must merely be something that would cause an average person’s reason to become clouded and irrational.
The state Supreme Court, in a unanimous 7-0 ruling, sided with the state prosecutors.
“We reaffirm today the standard for determining heat of passion that we adopted nearly a century ago,” Justice Carol Corrigan wrote.
“Provocation is adequate only when it would render an ordinary person of average disposition ‘liable to act rashly or without due deliberation and reflection, and from this passion rather than from judgment,’” Corrigan said.
She wrote that evidence of provocation was also “weak and contradicted,” noting that Tempongko had an active restraining order barring Beltran from her residence and that his fleeing to Mexico after the stabbing “reflected consciousness of guilt.”
Beltran was arrested in Mexico in 2006 and was brought back to San Francisco for the trial. He has remained in custody during the appeal process following the conviction.
The case became a rallying point for anti-domestic violence advocates, who said it symbolized a failure by authorities to protect abuse victims.
Beltran was arrested three times in 1999 on domestic violence charges. Tempongko called police to her apartment twice in September 2000, once when Beltran allegedly choked her and again when he rang the buzzer of her apartment despite a stay-away order.
Tempongko’s family filed a lawsuit against the city of San Francisco after her death, accusing authorities of negligence in failing to transmit police reports on her calls for help to probation officials, the district attorney and the Superior Court.
The city settled the lawsuit in 2004, awarding $500,000 to Tempongko’s two children.
Dan McMenamin, Bay City News