The California Supreme Court decided Wednesday to review a trial judge’s order removing the Riverside County public defender’s office from a death penalty murder case.
In a December hearing, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Christian Thierbach branded a lawyer for the public defender's office as ineffective and said there was “the very real appearance” that defense investigators may have tried to induce perjury in the case of client Juan Ramon Coronado Jr.
Coronado and Eusebio Fierros were both charged in the 2008 robbery and murder of 85-year-old Lupe Delgadillo from the community of Good Hope, a rural area west of Perris.
Fierros has been convicted, and jurors recommended the death penalty. He will be sentenced May 18. Coronado's case was severed from Fierros' trial by Thierbach's ruling.
In announcing the 7-0 decision to take on the matter, the high court also kept in place a stay on the Coronando case it had earlier issued.
But the justices did order new action.
The case will be threaded backward through the local appellate court, with an order to Thierbach.
The court said Thierbach needs to explain how he did not abuse discretion with both his decision removing the public defender’s office from the case, and with his denial of a plea from deputy public defender R. Addison Steele II for a private hearing to offer an explanation that Steele said included privileged attorney-client material.
There was no timetable attached to the court’s order that accompanied its decision to grant the review petition.
Thierbach acted after reviewing two defense memos, made three years apart and filed with Steele by different investigators who interviewed the same acquaintance of Coronado.
The content of the memos differ significantly.
One from 2008 said Coronado confessed his role in the murder to the friend. And there was a written suggestion from the investigator in that memo that it could be written “minus” the murder confession.
The second interview memo from 2011 — with the same friend — suggested Coronado seemed unaware of the murder and was surprised to learn about it from a newspaper story.
Steele insisted that the offer to write the 2008 memo without the confession was “a joke” and that the 2011 memo that implied Coronado was ignorant of the slaying was not the result of collusion between the investigators.