Death penalty upheld for 1997 crime spree

The death penalty of a Stockton man who killed four people during a two-month crime spree in 1997 was upheld by the California Supreme Court in San Francisco Thursday.

Louis James Peoples, 53, a former tow truck driver, killed his victims with a gun stolen in June 1997 from the van of an off-duty Alameda County sheriff’s deputy who was watching his son play baseball in a Stockton park.

The victims were killed in three separate shootings in the Stockton area in October and November 1997. They were James Loper, a driver at the tow truck company from which Peoples had been suspended; liquor store employee Stephen Chacko; and grocery store workers Besun Yu and Jun Gao.

eBecause of pretrial publicity, the trial was moved from San Joaquin County to Alameda County Superior Court, where Peoples was convicted of the four murders and sentenced to death in 2000.

Peoples’ lawyers contended at his trial that his reasoning and self-control were impaired by methamphetamine use and childhood abuse.

In today’s decision, the seven-member high court rejected a series of arguments in which Peoples claimed his trial was unfair.

Death penalty cases in California are appealed directly from the Superior Court trial court to the California Supreme Court.

In another capital case today, the court unanimously upheld the Tulare County Superior Court death sentence of Jose Lupercio Casares, 59, for the 1989 murder in Visalia of an associate who had bought some cocaine for resale.

Both defendants can appeal their cases further in the federal court system.

California currently has 746 condemned inmates on Death Row, whose cases are in various stages of appeal.

Executions in California have been on hold since 2006 because of federal and state court lawsuits challenging execution procedures.

The administration of Gov. Jerry Brown is currently developing a new lethal-injection execution procedure that would replace a three-drug protocol with a one-drug protocol.