by JENNIE RODRIGUEZ-MOORE
Mar 07, 2014
(RecordNet) - A California appeals court has reversed the murder conviction of a Stockton man charged with the beating death of a 48-year-old woman on grounds the defendant had ineffective representation.
James Andre Gorman in 2011 was sentenced to 15 years to life for the second-degree murder of Frankie Fisher Todd, found inside her home bludgeoned and with bite marks on her body.
The Third Appellate District sided with a petition [ed. - drafted by Cliff Gardner, Gorman's appellate and habeas counsel] that says Gorman's trial defense attorney, Ralph Cingcon, failed to attempt to locate three available witnesses who could have made a difference in the outcome of the trial.
"Two of whom could have bolstered Gorman's alibi, and one who could have identified another plausible killer, the victim's daughter," the petition says.
The court granted the reversal Wednesday based on ineffective assistance of counsel.
Gorman alleges Todd's daughter, a drug dealer, had made incriminating admissions to one of her customers.
It's a claim Deputy District Attorney Robert Himelblau says has "zero" evidence to support.
Should he retry the case again, he said, "I will prosecute it the exact same way I did it before."
"This woman, Frankie Todd, was beaten brutally with a blunt object," Himelblau said. "That blunt object was not in the home."
Gorman, 49, had a reputation for carrying a bat and assaulting people with it, Himelblau said, adding that DNA evidence and witness accounts support a conviction.
Cingcon declined to comment on the appellate court decision.
Todd was beaten to death with a baseball bat March 25, 2005, at her home in the 2400 block of Ophir Street.
The home was a known drug house that had people coming in and out in the late night and early hours, court documents say.
Gorman, who admitted to providing drugs to the victim in exchange for sexual favors, was arrested in 2006.
Saliva in at least one bite mark on Todd's body matched Gorman's DNA. One witness testified to riding with Gorman to the victim's home and seeing him enter it with a bat.
Gorman's petition challenges the reliability of witnesses who were substance users.
Himelblau, who prosecuted the case, said in 2011 that he believed Gorman attacked Todd because she had disrespected him weeks earlier by hitting him in front of other people.
Gorman's murder trial wasn't the first time Himelblau had crossed paths with Todd. The previous time, however, she was a witness to her other daughter's slaying.
Five years prior, Todd's 19-year-old daughter, Koi Wilson, was shot to death when someone opened fire in a home and stole a large amount of marijuana. That killer, Angelo Melendez, is now on California's death row.
Himelblau on Thursday said the District Attorney's Office plans to retry Gorman if the attorney general does not appeal the high court's decision to reverse the case.