Gang Member's Conviction, Death Sentence Upheld for Two Murders

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The California Supreme Court today unanimously upheld a death sentence for one of two men convicted in the killings of a fellow gang member and his female cousin and the attempted murders of two other women in the Nickerson Gardens area of Watts more than 17 years ago.

Jurors found Donte Lamont McDaniel, now 42, guilty of first-degree murder for the April 6, 2004, shooting deaths of fellow gang member George Brooks, 33, and Brooks' cousin, Annette Anderson, 52, at the woman's apartment, along with two counts of attempted murder involving two other women in the apartment who were shot repeatedly and underwent numerous reconstructive surgeries.

The jury also found true the special circumstance allegation of multiple murders.

At McDaniel's March 2009 sentencing, Superior Court Judge Robert J. Perry said the evidence of McDaniel's guilt was “compelling'' and said the jurors' verdicts -- including the death penalty recommendation -- were “fully supported'' by the evidence.

Perry noted that McDaniel “recruited'' co-defendant Kai Harris to “join him in the murders,'' in which the victims were shot multiple times.

Harris, now 44, was also convicted of the crimes and sentenced to death. His automatic appeal is still pending.

The crimes were apparently motivated by a dispute over drugs between Brooks and a fellow gang member who was a close associate of McDaniel's, a prosecutor said after the verdict.

Jurors deadlocked on whether to recommend a death sentence or life in prison without the possibility of parole, with separate juries subsequently recommending that McDaniel and Harris be sentenced to death.

Supreme Court Justice Goodwin H. Liu -- who authored the panel's 77-page ruling that upheld McDaniel's conviction and death sentence -- wrote in a concurring opinion that there is a “serious question'' as to whether what he referred to as California's capital sentencing scheme is unconstitutional in light of a 2000 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, and that he has “come to believe the issue merits re-examination by this court and other responsible officials.''

“... There is a world of difference between a unanimous jury finding of an aggravating circumstance and the smorgasbord approach that our capital sentencing scheme allows. Given the stakes for capital defendants, the prosecution, and the justice system, I urge this court, as well as other responsible officials sworn to uphold the Constitution, to revisit this issue at an appropriate time,'' Liu added in the 30-page concurring opinion.

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