The California Supreme Court today overturned the death penalty of a Palo Alto man who was convicted of murdering a San Jose jewelry store owner and his brother 29 years ago. The high court, in a decision issued in San Francisco, unanimously ruled that Miguel Bacigalupo didn’t have a fair trial because prosecutors withheld information that could have supported his claim that a Colombian Mafia ordered him to carry out the murders.
Bacigalupo was convicted in Santa Clara County Superior Court and sentenced to death in 1987 for fatally shooting jewelry store owner Orestes Guerrero and his brother, Jose Guerrero, on Dec. 29, 1983. After being arrested, Bacigalupo admitted killing the brothers but said he was ordered to do so by the Colombian Mafia under threats that he and his family would be killed.
The evidence withheld by prosecutors was information that a confidential informant had said her former boyfriend, a Colombian-born drug dealer in San Jose, had made statements implicating himself in ordering the killings in revenge for a drug deal dispute. The state high court said that information could have supported Bacigalupo’s argument during the penalty phase of trial that he should have been sentenced to life in prison without parole instead of death.
Justice Joyce Kennard wrote, “It is reasonably probable that petitioner’s penalty phase jury would have returned a verdict of life imprisonment without parole had it heard the evidence withheld by the prosecution.” The court previously upheld Bacigalupo’s conviction and death penalty in 1993, but reconsidered his challenge to the death penalty after he filed a habeas corpus petition in 1999.
The panel said it will rule separately at a later date on other issues in Bacigalupo’s petition. After that, prosecutors will have the option to decide whether to seek a new penalty phase of trial or allow the sentence to revert to life in prison without parole.
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