SAN FRANCISCO -- The California Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the murder conviction of a Modesto man for a 2005 slaying at the Emeryville Amtrak station, rejecting arguments that his trial was tainted by improper jury instructions.
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court left intact a 50-years-to-life sentence for Akin Ramon Mills, who claimed at trial he was insane when he shot and killed 27-year-old Jason Jackson Andrade as a he waited for a train at the East Bay station. Andrade, a Sacramento resident, was on his way to visit family in Richmond at the time of the murder.
An Alameda County jury convicted Mills of first-degree murder at his 2009 trial, and then determined he was legally sane when he committed the crime.
On appeal, Mills argued that trial judge Larry Goodman, tarnished the verdict by instructing the jurors during the guilt phase that they must presume Mills was sane. Defense lawyers maintain it undercut Mills' argument that his actions at the Amtrak station were the result of mental problems, including paranoia and delusions.
The high court concluded that while the jury instruction was improper, it was "harmless" and did not influence the jury's verdict.
"Because of the facts and the way this case was tried, the jury was unlikely to have applied the presumption of sanity in a way that unconstitutionally affected the burden of proof," Justice Carol Corrigan wrote for the court.
During the trial, prosecutors argued that Mills was sane when he killed Andrade, who worked in the kitchen at the University of California at Davis Medical Center.
During closing arguments, the prosecutor called the fatal shooting "a cold-blooded murder of an innocent and nice young man."