Key Decisions

December 2013 – Pay Attention To Fortune Cookies – At Least Where A Provocative Murder Is Involved

(filed under: Key Decisions | December 19, 2013)

Pay Attention To Fortune Cookies – At Least Where A Provocative Murder Is Involved

People v. Johnson
(Cal. Ct. of App., 2d Dist.), filed November 19, 2013, published November 19, 2013

Ryan Johnson orchestrated the home invasion robbery of Peter Davis’ home. Johnson did this because he knew Davis cultivated marijuana at his house. Johnson’s “crew” consisted of Kelsey Alvarez and Jesse Baker-Riley.

Alvarez and Baker-Riley knocked on Davis’ door and when Davis answered, Baker-Riley threatened him with a pistol.

Once inside Davis’ home, Baker-Riley saw a pile of marijuana on the table. He told Davis to wrap it in a paper towel and give it to them. Davis complied.

During these events, Baker-Riley was clicking the safety of his gun on and off and taunting Davis in a manner reminiscent of the “thugs” in the movie “Pulp Fiction.” He even remarked about the movie.

While holding Davis at gunpoint and taunting him, Baker-Riley spotted a fortune cookie on the table and made Davis open it. It prophetically read: “There will be many upcoming opportunities. Take advantage of them.” Baker-Riley remarked that he was taking advantage of opportunities by robbing Davis.

Baker-Riley then spotted some marijuana drying in a back bedroom. He ordered Davis to go into the bedroom and sit on the bed. Davis believed that Baker-Riley was getting ready to kill him.

Davis chose to sit next to a nightstand. On the nightstand was his own gun. Davis took advantage of the opportunity, grabbed his gun and shot and killed Alvarez.

Baker-Riley and Johnson were both convicted of first-degree murder based on Alvarez’s death.

The Court of Appeal affirmed. Even though Johnson was not present and even though Alvarez had not fired a shot, they were both guilty under the provocative murder doctrine.

The court remarked that:

[A] “mastermind’s” conviction of murder based on that doctrine is sound public policy. Allowing a “mastermind” to escape liability for murder while his provocateur accomplice (Baker-Riley) suffers a first degree murder conviction would be inconsistent and unfair. It could also encourage a criminal planner to employ accomplices to do his bidding in his absence to shield himself from the application of the provocative act murder doctrine.