CHICAGO (FAXX/jGLi) – “The heat of passion arises if, at the time of the killing, the reason of the accused was obscured or disturbed by passion to such an extent as would cause the ordinary reasonable person of average disposition to act rashly and without deliberation and reflection, and from such passion rather than from judgment.”
With this ruling, a unanimous seven-person California Supreme Court reinstated the second-degree murder conviction Monday (June 3) of a man, who fatally stabbed his estranged girlfriend, a battered Filipino American Claire Joyce Tempongko, in front of her two children in Richmond, California 12 years ago.
The California state Court of Appeal had reversed exactly two years ago on May 6, 2011 the conviction of Tare Nicholas Beltran by a jury before Superior Court Judge Robert Dondero of San Francisco, who sentenced Beltran to 26 years to life in prison for second-degree murder for the killing of the 28-year-old Tempongko he met at a bar.
In reversing the majority decision of the Court of Appeal of the three-person panel penned by Justice Ignazio Ruvolo, Associate Supreme Court Justice Carol A. Corrigan said, “We reaffirm today the standard for determining heat of passion that we adopted nearly a century ago. 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.’
“We decline the Attorney General’s invitation to deviate from this venerable understanding that has been faithfully applied by juries for decades. Although the former version of CALCRIM No. 570 properly conveyed the Logan test, the argument of counsel may have introduced ambiguity.
“However, the jury asked a clarifying question and the trial court’s response dispelled any confusion.”
The state highest court took exception to the defendant’s argument that the trial court’s response to the jury question did not resolve the ambiguity because the trial court directed the jury to consider whether the provocation would cause a person of average disposition “to do an act rashly” rather than “to act rashly.”
IMPROPER FOCUS ON THE ACT
In arguing for a lesser crime and sentence for voluntary manslaughter, the defendant argued that trial court’s formulation of the jury question “continued to improperly focus the jury on the “act” performed, that is, the act of killing, and whether an ordinary person would commit the act of killing in response to provocation.
“This instruction properly focused upon the rashness of the act, not on the act alone.”
Tempongko sustained 17 stab wounds in her face, upper body, arms, and hands after she was attacked by Beltran, who fled to Mexico, where he was arrested six years later.
Her son, identified only as “J.N.,” was nine years old at the time of stabbing in their home on Oct. 22, 2000. J.N. who turned 18 during the trial said prior to the stabbing, his mother, Claire Joyce, received several cell phone calls. His mother was “frantic,” arguing with someone on the phone and telling the caller not to come to the apartment.
Thirty to 45 minutes later, Beltran banged loudly on the front door, then, entered without being let in. He began yelling, asking Claire Joyce where she had been and with whom. The two argued for five to 10 minutes. Beltran then walked briskly to the kitchen, returned to the living room with large knife and repeatedly stabbed Clair Joyce in the presence of J.N. and his little sister.
For his part, Beltran testified that that he went to the apartment and let himself in with a key because Claire Joyce was expecting him. He said Claire Joyce was upset and asked him why he was late.
NO “ABORTION” MENTIONED
He said the argument became heated and Claire Joyce hurled insults, calling him “a f – – – – -g illegal” and a “nobody.” She “could get better than [him].” When he turned to leave, she stated: “F – – k you. I was right. I knew you were going to walk away someday. That’s why I killed your bastard. I got an abortion.”
Beltran said he was shocked, “Tempongko had never mentioned an abortion.” He remembered nothing else until he found himself standing in the living room with a bloody knife and fled to Mexico.”
The Supreme Court, however, gave credence to the testimony of J.N. that his mother never mentioned having abortion. And even “if the victim did mention an abortion, the alleged statements did not amount to adequate provocation.
“Now, it is not enough that the defendant simply was provoked. The defendant is not allowed to set up his own standard of conduct. You must decide whether the defendant was provoked and whether the provocation was sufficient.
“To be adequate, the provocation must be one that would cause an emotion so intense that an ordinary person would simply react without reflection.”
Marily Mondejar, Chief Executive Officer of Filipina Women’s Network of San Francisco, was overjoyed by the California Supreme Court decision as officers and members of FWN’s anti-domestic violence had followed the case closely.
Beverly Upton, Executive Director of the San Francisco Domestic Violence Consortium, said, “We are so grateful for the CA Supreme Court’s opinion that the guilty verdict in the death of Claire Joyce Tempongko by Tare Nicholas Ramirez (Beltran) should be upheld. This allows the Tempongko family and the community to breathe a sigh of relief and have some closure.”