State court to hear appeal of man convicted in 1998 rape, murder of mother of 3

The California Supreme Court is set next month to hear an automatic appeal filed on behalf of one of three men on death row for the December 1998 rape and beating death of a mother of three attacked while walking to a store in Long Beach.

Jamelle Armstrong—whose appeal will be heard Nov. 7 in Sacramento—was sentenced to death in 2004 for his involvement in the Dec. 29, 1998, sexual assault, robbery and slaying of Penny Sigler, also known as Penny Keprta.

In a 6-1 ruling in May, the state’s highest court upheld the conviction and death sentence of Armstrong’s half-brother, Warren Justin Hardy.

An automatic appeal is still pending for the third defendant, Kevin Pearson.

In a 2012 ruling that cited the trial court’s “improper excusal of a prospective juror because of her views on capital punishment,” the California Supreme Court unanimously threw out Pearson’s first death sentence. The second jury to hear the penalty phase against Pearson recommended in April 2013 that he be sentenced to death, and he was formally sentenced again to death about two months later.

The 43-year-old woman was walking to a store at about 11 p.m. when she was attacked under an overpass to the 405 Freeway in Long Beach. She suffered 114 injuries, including at least 10 skull fractures that appeared to have been inflicted before her death, according to the California Supreme Court majority’s May 31 opinion in Hardy’s case.

The woman’s body was found by Caltrans workers—one of whom thought the body was a mannequin— on a freeway embankment on the northbound 405 Freeway near Wardlow Road and Long Beach Boulevard.

“The victim was moved to the embankment before being raped, from which the jury could infer that defendant and his co-defendants kidnapped her with the intent to rape in addition to the intent to kill,” Justice Ming W. Chin wrote on behalf of the majority in Hardy’s case.

The panel also noted that there was evidence that Sigler had been given food stamps, that an empty food stamp booklet was found at the scene of the crime and that food stamps bearing that serial number were used at a nearby market, and that the store’s owner testified that Hardy had used food stamps to buy items around that time.

“This evidence was sufficient to support the conclusion that defendant took the victim’s food stamps and used them. This conclusion, in turn, supported the robbery finding,” Chin wrote.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Goodwin H. Liu wrote that he felt the judgment against Hardy should be reversed.

“As a result of the prosecutor striking every black juror she could have struck, the black defendant in this capital case, charged with raping and murdering a white woman, was tried by a jury that included no black person,” Liu wrote, adding that his inquiry “leads me to conclude that, more likely than not, the jury that convicted Hardy and sentenced him to death was not selected free of improper discrimination.”

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