Juan Ignacio Blanco  


  MALE murderers

index by country

index by name   A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

  FEMALE murderers

index by country

index by name   A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z




Murderpedia has thousands of hours of work behind it. To keep creating new content, we kindly appreciate any donation you can give to help the Murderpedia project stay alive. We have many
plans and enthusiasm to keep expanding and making Murderpedia a better site, but we really
need your help for this. Thank you very much in advance.




Stephanie Nicole ERENDS





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Jealousy
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: March 8, 2008
Date of arrest: 2 days after
Date of birth: 1983
Victim profile: Alicia Ernst, 24 (her friend)
Method of murder: Slashing her throat with a wallpaper scraper
Location: Placer County, California, USA
Status: Sentenced to life without the possibility of parole on February 9, 2010

Erends gets life without the possibility of parole

By Eric Laughlin, The Press Tribune

February 10. 2010

The Roseville woman convicted last month of brutally murdering her friend with a wallpaper scraper will spend the rest of her life behind bars.

Stephanie Nicole Erends, 26, was formally sentenced to life without the possibility of parole Wednesday, following an emotional statement delivered by the mother of 24-year-old victim Alicia Ernst.

While trying to hold back tears and holding a large photograph of her daughter, Alicia Martens told Erends she will never forgive her for killing and mutilating the person she loved so much.

“I wish you would have just cut your own throat and left Alicia alone,” she said. “As far as I’m concerned you’re like cancer Stephanie, like AIDS, you just spread ugliness wherever you go. You must die Stephanie. And I don’t care how, just die.”

In December Erends was convicted by a jury of first-degree murder with special circumstances that included lying in wait and use of a deadly weapon.

On March 8, 2008, she drove Ernst to a remote field off Old Walerga Road, got in the back seat, and surprised Ernst by slicing her neck and face while she sat buckled in the passenger’s seat.

Erends then tried to cut off Ernst’s fingers to keep her from being identified, poured ammonia on her body and then covered her with trash after dumping her body nearby.

During the trial, Erends admitted to slashing Ernst’s throat, but claimed it was a heat of passion killing that resulted from a scuffle in the vehicle. Erends said the women had been at odds following an incident in which Ernst humiliated her in front of Ernst’s boyfriend.

The jury didn’t buy her testimony, however, and found her guilty of lying in wait.

Following the statement by Ernst’s mother, Erends’ grandmother Janet Cross addressed the court in an aggressive tone that drew several gasps from Ernst’s family members.

“It could’ve been the other way around as far as I’m concerned,” Cross said. “The drugs did this. If they hadn’t been doing drugs, this would’ve never happened.”

Cross then expressed frustration that the jury was not able to hear how her granddaughter made the Dean’s List prior to the murder.

Erends’ mother Karen also spoke briefly, and like Cross, claimed her daughter did not plan the murder. She spoke with reporters after the hearing.

“This just goes to show how things can happen,” she said. “I feel sad for the other family, but we both lost our daughters. One’s dead and one’s still dying inside.”

Another confrontational moment during the hearing was when Erends told prosecutor Garen Horst to “shut up” while he was detailing the horrid crime prior to sentencing.

Judge Colleen Nichols scolded the convicted killer and she stayed silent thereafter.

Erends will now be transported to a state correctional facility to begin her life sentence.


Erends guilty of first-degree murder

By Nathan Donato-Weinstein -

December 9, 2009

Roseville – Whether or not Stephanie Nicole Erends killed her friend was never in doubt.

The question was: Did she plan it?

On Wednesday, jurors issued their answer.

After two days of deliberations, eight women and four men told a judge that Erends, 26, is guilty of first-degree murder for the killing of her friend, 24-year-old Alicia Ernst. And they found her guilty of a special allegation alleging Erends was lying in wait when she slashed Ernst’s throat.

“Justice,” said Alicia Martens, Ernst’s mother, outside the courtroom. “It doesn’t bring my precious baby back, but it’s justice.”

Prosecutors said Erends drove Ernst to a remote road off Old Walerga Road just outside Roseville on March 8, 2008. That’s where they charged she attacked Ernst with a wallpaper scraper.

After initially denying involvement, Erends told police in a confession that she planned the crime after Ernst allegedly poured acid down her throat several months earlier, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors also said Erends had long been jealous of her friend, and that jealousy was strengthened after she believed that Ernst had slept with her boyfriend.

But Erends changed her tune, and earlier this month told a jury she “just snapped” during a fight – and never plotted the murder. She said she originally confessed to get police off her back.

This week, a jury of eight women and four men weren’t buying it.

“I felt the evidence corroborated her initial confession,” said jury foreman Edward Millett.

Millett said he wasn’t swayed by Erends’ decision to take the stand.

“Her testimony was such that she mumbled – she was hard to understand,” he said, adding that she had months to think about a new story.

Juror Ellen Lersch said if the killing was spontaneous, Erends should have had more defense wounds from a resisting Alica. But that wasn’t the case, suggesting Erends got the element of surprise.

And Erends’ reversal didn’t pass the smell test, Lersch said.

“Most people, when they confess, they do tell the truth,” she said.

Erends sat motionless with tears streaming down her cheeks as the verdict was read.

Afterward, Brandon Ernst, Alicia’s brother, said the process was grueling.

“She should have pleaded guilty,” Brandon Ernst said, wearing a button with Alica’s face.

“It’s the next part of grieving my sister’s loss,” he said of the guilty verdict.

Jonathan Richter, Erends’ defense attorney, declined to comment outside the courtroom.

“I’m appreciative the jury arrived at an appropriate decision,” prosecutor Garen Horst said.

Erends faces life in prison without parole. Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty.

Her sentencing is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Feb. 10.


Accused killer Stephanie Erends takes stand

By Nathan Donato-Weinstein -

November 30, 2009

Accused killer Stephanie Nicole Erends on Monday said her victim trash-talked her – saying she slept with “a whole bunch of people” and looked “foul” when having sex.

It was her simmering rage at those remarks – and not a methodical pre-planned scheme – that led Erends to slash Alicia Ernst’s throat on the outskirts of Roseville on March 8, 2008, she said.

“I didn’t know why she was treating me that way,” Erends, 26, said. “It was just the fact she was supposed to be my friend. Heck, it was my birthday.”

The claim came during testimony in which Erends, dressed in a cream sweater and ankle-length black skirt, took the stand to offer a different take on how the gruesome killing went down.

Prosecutors have charged her with first-degree murder with a special allegation of lying in wait, based partly on Erends’ own extensive conversations with investigators.

But on Monday, Erends said her confession of planning the killing moths prior was a lie in order to get police off her back. In that version of events, Erends said she plotted to kill Ernst, 24, after Ernst poured acid down her throat.

Erends could face a lessened sentence if jurors find she didn’t plan the killing in advance.

In Monday’s daylong testimony, Erends rarely looked up and in hushed tones discussed her drug-filled childhood and what she said happened on that fateful night.

The two longtime friends had been getting high at a friend’s house the night of March 7 when Ernst made the comments about Erends’ body and sexual habits, Erends said.

In the early morning, the two left in Erends’ car. Erends drove to the spot – a drinking hangout – to delay going home until her grandmother, whom she was living with, left for work, she said.

That’s when Erends brought up Ernst’s comments, Erends said.

“She just tried to laugh it off and said it was funny,” Erends said.

Enraged, Erends said she backhanded her.

“She never suspected I would do it. We just started fighting.”

Eventually, Erends said she reached for a wallpaper tool that she had bought for work.

“I don’t know what I was thinking. I knew I wanted to hurt her,” she said.

“Then what?” Jonathan Richter, her defense attorney, asked.

“I was pressing it down on her. She was trying to get me off. She was yelling at me,” Erends said.

Erends said the two of them stumbled out the passenger’s side door.

“At some point did Alicia stop struggling?” Richter asked.

“Yes,” Erends answered.

“Afterward, what was going through your mind?” Richter asked.

“I was panicked. Kind of shocked. I remember realizing someone was going to get severely hurt during all that.”

**Remorse asserted, motives questioned**

Richter spent much of the day establishing Erends’ remorse. In numerous prison letters to pen pals, Erends wrote of suicidal thoughts and seeking forgiveness.

But prosecutor Garen Horst tore into Erends’ story, questioning her motive for changing it.

“You’re coming up with this version of events for a lesser sentence, aren’t you?” he asked.

Erends replied “no,” but Horst produced letters to pen pals showing it was only after Erends learned she wouldn’t be eligible for conjugal visits if she received life in prison that she decided to “put up a little bit of a fight,” as she wrote.

And he asked why jurors should believe her now after she admitted to lying in her original story to police.

Moreover, Horst suggested Erends’ story of confessing to planning the killing because she wanted police off her back just didn’t hold up. After all, she could have told them her current story just as easily, he said.

Erends' trial is expected to last through mid-December.


Court of Appeals of California, Third District, Placer.


THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
STEPHANIE NICOLE ERENDS, Defendant and Appellant.

No. C064714.

Filed June 16, 2011.


Following a jury trial, defendant Stephanie Nicole Erends was convicted of first degree murder (Pen. Code, § 187) with a lying-in-wait special circumstance (id., § 190.2, subd. (a)(15)) and a deadly weapon enhancement (id., § 12022, subd. (b)(1)). The trial court initially sentenced defendant to a state prison term of 25 years to life plus one year, later correcting the sentence to life without the possibility of parole plus one year.

On appeal, defendant contends there was instructional error on provocation and improper opinion testimony from the investigating officer on the veracity of defendant's confession. We shall affirm the judgment.


Defendant and Alicia Ernst had been friends since high school. On March 7, 2008, it was defendant's 25th birthday. Defendant left home around 8:15 p.m. to celebrate with Ernst. Ernst and defendant visited Ernst's boyfriend, Richard Hamman, around midnight, leaving at 4:00 a.m.

Ernst's body was discovered by a Placer County road maintenance worker off Old Walerga Road near Baseline Road on March 10, 2008. Her body was covered with trash, and an empty ammonia bottle was at the scene. There was no insect activity on Ernst's body, which was consistent with ammonia being poured over the body. The ammonia bottle tested positive for blood. Also found at the scene was a white plastic trash bag containing fresh blood, gloves saturated with blood, a knife-like device with a four-inch blade and a triangle-shaped area where the handle was broken off.

The Placer County forensic pathologist determined Ernst died in the early morning hours of March 8, 2008. She sustained various sharp-force injuries to the head and face, but the cause of death was multiple sharp-force wounds to the neck. The neck wounds were from the left to the right, and were consistent with having come from a single-edged razor type of tool. There were also postmortem wounds on Ernst's fingers that were consistent with someone trying to shave off her fingerprints.

Ernst sustained limited defensive wounds. More defensive wounds would be expected if she had been attacked from the side or front, and her other wounds were consistent with an attack from the rear. However, the pathologist could not conclusively determine the direction of the attack unless he was present during the assault.

Around 5:00 a.m. on March 8, 2008, defendant knocked on the door of Michelle and Paul White's house. Defendant, who had blood all over her hands, told the Whites that three men attacked her when her car broke down. She did not want law enforcement called, but asked to call her grandmother. Paul White later drove defendant to her grandmother's house.

Michael Smith responded to a tow service call on Old Walerga Road on March 8, 2008, at around 7:30 a.m. Defendant was there with her grandmother; the car was tangled in barbed wire and under an oak tree. Defendant said she and her girlfriend were run off the road by another vehicle. This did not make sense to Smith given the placement of defendant's car. Smith noticed blood on the driver's side door as well as between the seat and center console.

Defendant was contacted by Placer County Sheriff's Detective Christina Woo at around 9:10 p.m. on March 10, 2008. Defendant told Detective Woo she went to a bar with Ernst on March 7, her birthday. Ernst did not want to leave the bar, so defendant left Ernst and went to other bars by herself. She went home for awhile before going to a friend's house, where defendant left around 3:00 a.m., and was run off the road around 4:00 a.m. Defendant went to three to four houses looking for a ride before the Whites opened their door to her.

Defendant took Detective Woo and Detective Don Murchison to the bars she allegedly visited, and to where her car got stuck. She claimed another car ran her off the road, and a man came up and grabbed her by the neck. He later "slipped away" when another car drove past.

Told that Ernst's body was found in the same area, defendant suggested it was a coincidence. She then denied killing Ernst and demanded to be taken home. The detectives took defendant home and arrested her after seeing her car.

Detectives Murchison and Woo interrogated defendant at the Placer County Jail at 9:57 p.m. on March 11. After being read her Miranda1 rights, defendant said she wanted "to confess to killing Alicia Ernst," and admitted slitting Ernst's throat with a "single razor."

Defendant told the detectives she picked up Ernst and they did some methamphetamine at Hamman's house, leaving at around 3:30 a.m. Instead of going home, defendant drove Ernst to the frontage road. While Ernst was sitting in the front passenger seat, defendant got in the back seat and said she was going to change her pants. Defendant took a knife she had already placed in the back seat, and used it to slit Ernst's throat. She then pulled Ernst out of the car and cut off her fingerprints as much as she could. Once outside the car, defendant poured ammonia over Ernst's body and covered it with garbage. Defendant started to leave, but panicked and drove her car into a bush. She later convinced Paul White to drive her home.

Defendant admitted buying the ammonia and the blade several weeks before, intending to use them on Ernst. Defendant wanted to kill Ernst for allegedly pouring "acid" down her throat while she was sleeping six to seven months before the killing.

Defendant admitted her earlier story was false. She later helped the detectives find the ammonia bottle and the weapon.

Detective Murchison testified that he thought defendant held back some information in her confession. Although defendant claimed she had not been to the murder scene before she killed Ernst, defendant's boyfriend told Detective Murchison that he and defendant had been to the area before. He also could not confirm whether Ernst poured acid down defendant's throat. However, Detective Murchison believed most of the confession was corroborated by extrinsic evidence, such as bloodstains in defendant's car.

A search of defendant's car found red stains on both the driver-and passenger-side doors, along with gouges and scratches on the roof and hood. There was blood on the steering wheel and the interior of the car, including extensive saturated bloodstains in the lower left quadrant of the passenger's seat, and two shoe prints were on the interior windshield.

Defendant's boyfriend, Alexander Kapustin, was arrested on an outstanding warrant when he tried to visit defendant in jail. Kapustin had a newspaper clipping on defendant's case, along with a note that he intended to pass to defendant. The note read, "Tell me you don't [sic] do that because you still think I was mess—mess around with her." Kapustin testified that he fought with defendant about whether he slept with Ernst, which he denied.

Hamman testified that defendant and Ernst knocked on his door on the night of March 7, 2008. Hamman was dating Ernst at the time, and once dated defendant. Defendant and Ernst asked Hamman if he had any drugs. Hamman said "No," and they left after 30 minutes. Ernst and defendant returned at around 1:30 or 2:00 a.m. with methamphetamine, which they smoked in Hamman's garage.

Ernst and defendant teased and flirted with each other; at one point defendant got on Ernst's lap. Later, the three watched an adult movie, after which Ernst and Hamman went to the shower where they had sex. Ernst told defendant she watched her have sex with other men when they lived together. Defendant's demeanor did not change after Ernst said this. Ernst and defendant left at 4:00 a.m.

Defendant testified that she had been friends with Ernst since they were 13. On the night of the incident, defendant and Ernst went out to celebrate defendant's birthday. After buying some gas and beers, they went to Hamman's to buy some drugs. Hamman did not have any drugs, but they hung out for awhile before driving to see one of Ernst's friends, from whom Ernst bought methamphetamine. They stayed at the friend's house for a few hours and smoked methamphetamine.

The pair then returned to Hamman's house, were they hung out for a few hours and smoked methamphetamine. The three watched an adult video; at some point Ernst and Hamman took a shower. Ernst started making rude remarks about defendant and pulled down one of defendant's pant legs, exposing her underwear. Ernst said she had seen defendant have sex with other people before; defendant looked foul doing so, and slept with a lot of other people. This made defendant "feel like crap," as it was defendant's birthday and Ernst was supposed to be her friend. Ernst kept insulting defendant even after defendant told her to stop.

Defendant then said she needed to get her keys from her grandmother, and Ernst suggested she go with defendant. Ernst seemed to feel bad for what she said, so defendant let Ernst come with her. Since she was high, defendant did not want to get home until her grandmother left for work, and she drove to an isolated spot on Old Walerga Road to wait for about 20 minutes. Defendant asked Ernst why she treated her that way; Ernst tried to laugh it off and thought it was funny, which made defendant feel dirty. Defendant told her to "shut up" and hit Ernst in the face.

Ernst got mad, and they started to fight. Defendant pulled Ernst's sweatshirt hood over Ernst's head, reached into a storage area of the driver's seat, grabbed a scraper, and pressed it onto Ernst. Ernst's feet were over the dash as they struggled. Ernst tried to get defendant off of her, and they fell out the passenger-side door.

Ernst stopped struggling at some point. Defendant slid the scraper across Ernst's fingers, got ammonia from the back seat, and poured the ammonia over Ernst's body. She put her gloves and the scraper into a plastic bag. Defendant put garbage on top of Ernst's body and tried to leave, but got stuck.

Defendant testified that when the detectives first spoke to her, they questioned her about being attacked so she went along with the story even though it was not true. Her confession was false; she felt like she was blaming Ernst if she told the deputies the truth, and defendant originally felt she deserved the death penalty.

Defendant claimed she kept the ammonia, trash bags, and rubber gloves in her car because she cleaned houses once a month. She purchased the scraper from Home Depot to scrape lettering off a door at her work. Defendant admitted arguing with Kapustin about sleeping with an Alicia, but later determined it was a different woman than Ernst.

Ellen Kuykendall, a close friend of defendant's grandmother, testified that defendant cleaned her house at times and would bring ammonia and gloves. According to a coworker of defendant's, their workplace purchased a new door and employees removed the door's old lettering. She admitted there were tools on-site for the task and did not recall a shaver being used.

According to forensic psychologist Dr. Ari Kalechstein, defendant suffered from methamphetamine addiction and a major depressive disorder at the time of the incident, and was suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Giving a different version of a traumatic event a few days after the event was consistent with PTSD, and the person's ability to recall or be aware of their surroundings and what transpired is affected.

On rebuttal, Detective Murchison testified that defendant's failure to admit certain facts did not cause him to question her confession. Holding back or not admitting information can happen during questioning. Murchison had been trained to look at the totality of the evidence when evaluating the veracity of a confession. There were no injuries on defendant's face consistent with defendant's testimony that Ernst grabbed her face with both hands. Also, defendant's testimony regarding a struggle outside the car was inconsistent with the staining found inside defendant's car. Defendant's testimony had not changed his belief that her confession was accurate.


I. The Provocation Instruction

Defendant contends the trial court prejudicially erred in failing to give a requested clarifying instruction on provocation. We disagree.

The trial court instructed the jury with the standard instruction on voluntary manslaughter, CALCRIM No. 570, which reads, in pertinent part: "A killing that would otherwise be murder is reduced to voluntary manslaughter if the defendant killed someone because of a sudden quarrel or in the heat of passion." CALCRIM No. 570 further states, "It is not enough that the defendant was simply provoked. The defendant is not allowed to set up her own standard of conduct. In deciding whether the provocation was sufficient, consider whether a person of average disposition in the same situation and knowing the same facts, would have reacted from passion rather than from judgment."

Before and after the trial, defense counsel asked the court to modify CALCRIM No. 570, based on the Bench Notes to CALCRIM No. 570 and People v. Najera (2006) 138 Cal.App.4th 212 (Najera), to include language that the sufficient provocation for manslaughter is not to kill but merely to act rashly and without deliberation. Asked how he would change the instruction, defense counsel stated, "I would just add that line that they put in the use notes, that an average person need not be provoked to kill, but merely to act [rashly] and without deliberation." The trial court rejected the suggested modification and instructed the jury with the unmodified CALCRIM No. 570 (Dec. 2008 rev.).

Defendant relies on the Authority subheading to CALCRIM No. 570, which states: "`Average person' Need Not Have Been Provoked to Kill, Just to Act Rashly and Without Deliberation. People v. Najera (2006) 138 Cal.App.4th 212, 223." (Judicial Council of Cal. Crim. Jury Instns. (2011) Authority to CALCRIM No. 570, p. 354.) Admitting CALCRIM No. 570 "may be adequate for most cases generally," defendant asserts "the instruction's focus is misleading in regard to the concept of provocation which is not directly related to killing but to the loss of objectively normal mental control of an average person." Since "provocation `to kill'" was not the main part of the defense, defendant argues it "was critical that the jurors understood that the provocation had only to be sufficient to arouse that heat of passion mental state to a level where the action of an ordinary person would be from passion rather than reason."

During argument on the motion at trial, the prosecutor sought clarification, stating that his understanding of defense counsel's position was that based on statements from Ernst in the car, coupled with the fight, there "was sufficient provocation for [defendant] to then grab the razor and kill her[.]" Defense counsel replied, "No. It's sufficient provocation for her to act rationally from passion. That's why I want the language, because even you are misreading what it says." Defendant contends this exchange shows the modified instruction was necessary to prevent the jury from believing defendant had to have been provoked to kill before finding sufficient provocation for voluntary manslaughter.

When a defendant contends an instruction is ambiguous or potentially misleading, we must review the instructions as a whole and determine "`whether there is a reasonable likelihood that the jury has applied the challenged instruction in a way' that violates the [United States] Constitution." (Estelle v. McGuire (1991) 502 U.S. 62, 72 [116 L.Ed.2d 385, 399]; see also People v. Smithey (1999) 20 Cal.4th 936, 963.)

"`[H]eat of passion'" voluntary manslaughter requires proof of provocation and heat of passion. (People v. Lee (1999) 20 Cal.4th 47, 59.) The provocation must be caused (or reasonably believed by the defendant to have been caused) by the victim, and must be "sufficiently provocative that it would cause an ordinary person of average disposition to act rashly or without due deliberation and reflection." (Ibid.) If an "ordinarily reasonable person," so provoked, would have acted in this manner, there is legally sufficient heat of passion to reduce murder to voluntary manslaughter. (Ibid.)

Najera addressed a prosecutor's closing arguments containing numerous incorrect statements of the law regarding voluntary manslaughter. (Najera, supra, 138 Cal.App.4th at pp. 219-224.) Among the erroneous arguments were the comments, "`Would a reasonable person do what the defendant did?'" and "`[T]he reasonable, prudent person standard . . . [is] based on conduct, what a reasonable person would do in a similar circumstance.'" (Id. at p. 223, italics omitted.) Such statements were incorrect because "[t]he focus is on the provocation—the surrounding circumstances—and whether it was sufficient to cause a reasonable person to act rashly. How the killer responded to the provocation and the reasonableness of the response is not relevant to sudden quarrel or heat of passion." (Id. at p. 223.)

CALCRIM No. 570 does not contain the gross misstatements of the law addressed in Najera. Instead of focusing on defendant's acts, CALCRIM No. 570 instructs the jury to consider whether a reasonable person, "knowing the same facts would have reacted from passion rather than from judgment." This is a correct statement of the law, and it is not reasonably likely that a jury instructed in this manner would apply the instruction incorrectly. The prosecutor's misstatement, made in the heat of argument, does not mean that a jury would make the same mistake when instructed with the unambiguous language of CALCRIM No. 570. It was not error for the trial court to refuse to give the modified instruction requested by defendant.

II. Opinion Testimony on Defendant's Confession

Defendant contends the trial court prejudicially erred in permitting Detective Murchison to give opinion testimony on the veracity of defendant's confession. Finding the error harmless, we disagree.

During Detective Murchison's rebuttal testimony, the prosecutor asked whether defendant's testimony was consistent with Ernst's injuries. Defendant objected, claiming lack of foundation, which the trial court overruled. Murchison started to testify that regarding the totality of the evidence concerning Ernst's injuries, "I still just don't understand how," when the trial court stopped him and said, "Let's be mindful that he's not the expert here." The prosecutor then moved to another line of questioning.

A little later, the prosecutor elicited from Detective Murchison that defendant's testimony presented information about the attack which he had not heard before. The prosecutor next asked: "And does what she said at trial change your opinion that, based on the evidence, her confession statement to you was accurate." Defense counsel objected, as the question "calls for his conclusion as to her truthfulness. That's for the jury to decide." The trial court overruled the objection, finding the jury would determine whether defendant was truthful, but Murchison could still give his opinion. Murchison then answered, "No, it has not changed."

Defendant asserts Detective Murchison's answer was inadmissible opinion evidence. Characterizing the question and answer as "argumentative and irrelevant," defendant concludes the testimony was "extremely prejudicial because they were addressed to a jury of citizens as the word of a public official elicited properly by another public official . . . and with the apparent approval of the judge h[er]self."

"Lay opinion about the veracity of particular statements by another is inadmissible on that issue." (People v. Melton (1988) 44 Cal.3d 713, 744.) There are several reasons for this rule. "With limited exceptions, the fact finder, not the witnesses, must draw the ultimate inferences from the evidence. Qualified experts may express opinions on issues beyond common understanding [citations], but lay views on veracity do not meet the standards for admission of expert testimony. A lay witness is occasionally permitted to express an ultimate opinion based on his perception, but only where `helpful to a clear understanding of his testimony' [citation], i.e., where the concrete observations on which the opinion is based cannot otherwise be conveyed. [Citations.] Finally, a lay opinion about the veracity of particular statements does not constitute properly founded character or reputation evidence [citation], nor does it bear on any of the other matters listed by statute as most commonly affecting credibility [citation]. Thus, such an opinion has no `tendency in reason' to disprove the veracity of the statements." (Ibid.)

As the Supreme Court has observed, "a police officer's opinion regarding the truthfulness of a suspect's confession is generally deemed inadmissible." (People v. Anderson (1990) 52 Cal.3d 453, 478.) Detective Murchison was not an expert on the veracity of confessions, and it was error for the trial court to allow him to give opinion testimony on whether defendant's confession was truthful. However, the admission of such testimony does not mandate reversal unless defendant can show it is reasonably probable she would have obtained a more favorable outcome had her objection been sustained. (People v. Melton, supra, 44 Cal.3d at pp. 744-745 [applying harmless error test of People v. Watson (1956) 46 Cal.2d 818, 836 to improper question calling for lay opinion testimony about the veracity of another witness].)

During the People's case-in-chief, Detective Murchison testified, without any objection from defendant, that he thought defendant's confession was largely truthful based on numerous corroborating facts such as her detailed description of the murder weapon, her placing the victim in the front seat, and the location of Ernst's body. Defendant's failure to object to this testimony forfeits any contention that it was improperly admitted. (People v. Anderson, supra, 52 Cal.3d at p. 478.) Any prejudice from the improper opinion testimony on rebuttal is diminished by this earlier testimony.

The case against defendant was overwhelming. Defendant's confession was corroborated by substantial physical evidence, including the considerable amount of blood in the car and the back seat in particular. The lack of defensive wounds on Ernst and the nature of her neck wounds strongly support defendant's confession that she attacked Ernst from behind and slit her throat. By contrast, defendant's claim of a mutual struggle that spilled out of the car is inconsistent with the lack of defensive wounds, the extensive wounding on Ernst's neck, and the amount and placement of bloodstains in defendant's car. Her testimony could not readily explain why the unusual murder weapon was in her car on the night of the murder. Defendant's explanation, that it was used to help remove lettering from a door at work, was inconsistent with the coworker's testimony that their employer provided the tools to remove the lettering from the door.

The error here consisted of a one-sentence answer by Detective Murchison, that defendant's testimony did not change his previously stated opinion that her confession was truthful. In light of the overwhelming evidence of defendant's guilt and the previous opinion testimony admitted without objection, it is not reasonably likely that the jury would have reached a different result had the trial court sustained defendant's objection.


The judgment is affirmed.

We concur:

HULL, Acting P. J.



Stephanie Nicole Erends


The victim

 Alicia Ernst, 24.



home last updates contact