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Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Curse of Michael Myers: California Supreme Court Rejects "Halloween II" Defense in Double Homicide Case

In December, 1982, Richard Delmer Boyer murdered a couple in California, stabbing the husband 24 times and the wife 19 times.  Two months earlier, "Halloween II," the sequel to John Carpenter's groundbreaking "Halloween" was released in theaters.

Boyer was convicted on two charges of first degree murder in 1984, but he had the convictions reversed on appeal becuase his confession was obtained in violation of his Constitutional rights.  This paved the way for his retrial in 1992, where Boyer made some interesting claims. See People v. Boyer, 133 P.3d 581 (Cal. 2006).  According to Boyer, he consumed whiskey, speed, marijuana, and cocaine on the day of the murders, and when he was at the victims' house, "[h]e felt he was part of Halloween II....Events kept changing speeds, and items inside the house became distorted." Id. at 591.

A doctor who examined Boyer also testified that Boyer told him in 1990 that "he was 'tripping' at the [victims'] residence, felt like he was in the movie Halloween II, and 'actually hallucinated a man coming at him with a knife.'" Id. at 615.  On cross-examination, however, the doctor admitted that when he interviewed Boyer in 1982 and 1983, Boyer "did not mention this hallucination." Id

Boyer's main defense at trial was that he should have been found guilty only of voluntary mansalughter because he was "unconscious" as a result of voluntary intoxication, a valid defense under California law.  The trial judge instructed the jury on this defense, but failed to instruct the jury on the legal definition of "unconsciousness," which extends to those "who are not conscious of acting but who perform acts while asleep or while suffering from a delirium of fever...." Id. at 623.  (Defense counsel did not ask for such an instruction).

Last year, the California Supreme Court affirmed his convictions, and I think that it acted correctly in doing so.  Boyer raised a lot of issues on appeal, but I'll only address two.  First, the Boyer claimed that because his confession violated his rights, his statements to doctors in the early '80s (where he didn't mention the hallucinations) were inadmissible as the "fruit of the poisonous tree."  The court found that this doctrine did not apply because this evidence did not come from subsequent police investigation, but instead was evidence voluntarily compiled by the defendant himself such that its exclusion would have "a negligible deterrent effect on police misconduct." Id. at 618

Second, Boyer claimed that the court erred in failing to instruct the jury on the legal definition of "unconsciousness"  The court, however, found that "[n]o rational jury, having heard the trial evidence and an instruction permitting it to find that defendant killed while unconscious, would require further instructions to realize that it could accept defendant's hallucination claim as one of unconsciousness."

-CM

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