Savannah Anderson Murder

Casebook of the Bedroom Killer

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Savannah Anderson was murdered early in the morning of May 14, 1979 in her gated apartment complex in Irvine. Her murder was usually placed with the Bedroom Basher crimes, but the case was solved in 1984 when evidence emerged against a security guard in the complex, Robert Lloyd Sellers.

Sellers was convicted after confessing, but appealled and in 1988 his appeal was succesful. In a new trial in 1989 he plea bargained a guilty plea. Below is a extracted copy of the successful appeal decision which describes the crime. At the time of the Witthuhn murder, this crime was considered an unsolved Bedroom Basher home invasion murder. It was solved before the Cruz murder.

 

People v. Sellers (1988) 203 CA3d 1042

[G005032 Court of Appeals of California, Fourth Appellate District, Division Three

Aug., 15, 1988]

THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. ROBERT LLOYD SELLERS, Defendant and Appellant

Opinion by Scoville, P. J., with Crosby, J., and Luesebrink, J., concurring.)

COUNSEL

John K. Van de Kamp, Attorney General, Steve White, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Michael D. Wellington and Carl H. Horst, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

Handy Horiye, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant.

OPINION

SCOVILLE, p. J.

Defendant, Robert Lloyd Sellers, appeals from a judgment after a jury found him guilty of murder in the first degree (Pen. Code, §§ 187, 189), and rape (Pen. Code, § 261, subd. (2)). The jury also found true the special circumstance allegation that the murder was committed while the defendant was engaged in the commission of the crime of rape (Pen. Code, § 190.2, subd. (a)(17)(iii)). Defendant was sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of parole based on the first degree murder {Page 203 Cal.App.3d 1045} conviction and the special circumstance finding of murder in the commission of rape. He was also sentenced to a consecutive term of six years for the rape and ordered to pay a restitution fine of $15,000.

We find ourselves in the unfortunate position of having to reverse this conviction for a most heinous murder and remand for a new trial because the jury was improperly instructed on the law of rape.

Facts

The nude body of S. Anderson was discovered at approximately 7:30 p.m. on Monday, May 14, 1979, by Irvine police officer Jimmy Potts after he was called to her apartment by Anderson's boyfriend and her employer. The men were concerned because Anderson's car was in her apartment garage, but she had not appeared at work that day and she did not respond to telephone calls to her apartment or knocking on her door. When Potts arrived at the scene he noticed all doors to the apartment were locked, and all drapes on the windows were pulled closed. there was no indication of a forced entry. However, the bedroom window on the north side of the apartment was open and had no screen on it. Potts gained access to the apartment through this window.

Anderson's body was lying on the bed, face up; her legs were spread apart and the bed coverings had been folded down. There was a watch on the victim's left wrist and a gold necklace around her neck. Bloody towels covered her face. Potts immediately took steps to secure the crime scene.

The crime scene and other evidence presented at trial, viewed in the light most favorable to respondent, shows that defendant, who was employed as a security guard at the victim's apartment complex, entered her open bedroom window shortly before the end of his work shift on the evening of May 13, 1979. Anderson was talking on the telephone at the time, and defendant waited in her bedroom. Anderson finished the telephone call at 12:03 a.m. When Anderson entered her bedroom and confronted defendant, a struggle ensued during which Anderson ended up on the bed. It is also possible to infer from the evidence the two were already on the bed when the struggle began. Defendant beat Anderson savagely over her head and shoulders with his baton or nightstick. He also strangled her, probably with the Sam Browne belt he was wearing. The beating and strangulation took place on the bed on top of a gold comforter, and Anderson was dressed in a short, red knit, one-piece playsuit and white bikini underpants at the time she was {Page 203 Cal.App.3d 1046} killed. There were no semen stains on the gold comforter nor on the red playsuit and underpants.

Defendant's replacement, Charles Doyal, arrived at the apartment complex to relieve defendant at about 12:10 or 12:15 a.m. Defendant usually waited in his car for the replacement to arrive; on this night, Doyal found defendant's car, but defendant was not in it. As Doyal drove around the complex looking for defendant, he noticed Anderson talking on the phone in her kitchen. It took Doyal approximately 10-15 minutes to drive around the complex. On his second round of the complex he saw Anderson closing the glass door to her patio and pulling the shades.

Sometime after he had completed the second round of the complex, and approximately 35 minutes after he started the first round, Doyal, sitting in his parked car, saw defendant walking toward him. Defendant was carrying his shirt and his Sam Browne belt. They had a brief conversation, but Doyal did not notice anything unusual about defendant, other than his shirtless condition. Defendant got into his car and left.

Sometime thereafter, defendant returned to Anderson's apartment. He lifted the body off the bed and dragged it into the bathroom where he washed it, first in the sink and then in the tub. In the course of washing the body, defendant removed Anderson's red knit playsuit and her white bikini underpants and dropped them in front of the sink.

Defendant turned down the blankets and top sheet on the bed to hide the massive bloodstains, particularly on the top-gold comforter. He also turned over the pillows on the bed to hide the bloodstains on those objects. He placed the victim's body on the clean lavender bottom sheet and placed a pillow under her head. He put two towels over the victim's face. He had intercourse with the body, and then left locking the door after him. {Page 203 Cal.App.3d 1047}

Doyal testified that sometime after defendant left the complex he fell asleep in his car. Doyal woke up when he heard a door slam. He estimated he had been asleep for between one and three hours. He saw a car back out of a parking stall and drive toward him with its headlights off. Defendant was driving the car. Defendant asked Doyal if he wanted to go to Spires for breakfast, and Doyal agreed. He got into defendant's car and they left for the restaurant. He noticed that defendant had changed out of his uniform into "civilian clothes."

James White, a criminalist employed by the Orange County Sheriff Department and specializing in forensic serology, conducted chemical tests on bloodstains and semen stains found at the scene. With respect to semen stain number two, White concluded the victim's boyfriend fn. 6 could have been a possible donor, but defendant could not have been. He concluded defendant was a possible donor of semen stain number one, the semen stain found directly under the victim's vaginal area, but he also testified that close to 90 percent of the population would not be excluded as possible donors of that sample.

Dr. Richard I. Fukumoto, a pathologist, testified the lacerations to the decedent's skull were caused by a somewhat elongated blunt instrument and gave his opinion an instrument similar to defendant's baton could have caused those injuries. He also expressed his opinion some of the injuries to the victim's face could have been caused by the baton, while other injuries to her face could have been caused by a fist with a ring protruding from it, or by a buckle similar to the buckle on defendant's Sam Browne belt.

Dr. Fukumoto testified the wounds to the victim's hands and forearms appeared to be defensive wounds, and they occurred before the victim's heart stopped. He noted there was an abrasion on the inside of the left thigh and an abrasion on the outside of the right knee, as well as several contusions below the right knee. In Fukumoto's opinion all injuries to the victim's legs occurred while her heart was still pumping. Dr. Fukumoto also testified that a laceration on the victim's nipple occurred after her heart had stopped.

It was Fukumoto's opinion the victim died from asphyxiation as a result of strangulation by ligature. A ligature approximately two inches wide was used to strangle the victim, and in Fukomoto's opinion defendant's Sam Browne belt could have been used. Fukumoto also expressed his opinion that the blows to the victim's head occurred before she was strangled, and {Page 203 Cal.App.3d 1048} that she was conscious at the time she was being strangled. The presence of pulmonary edema indicates the victim stopped breathing before her heart stopped pumping; however, the time lapse between these events was "probably no more than one minute, at the most." Fukumoto also testified the approximate time between heart stoppage and brain death is, on the average, six minutes.

It was not until early 1984 that a fingerprint expert finally concluded the bloody palm print on the door molding between the bedroom and the bathroom in the victim's apartment matched defendant's right palm, and that fingerprints discovered on the door molding near the palm print were defendant's.

Defendant was arrested on March 29, 1984, approximately five years after the crime was committed. His home was searched and a baton and a Sam Browne belt were found.

Under police questioning, defendant told several different versions of the events on the night of the homicide. While he consistently admitted the killing, the facts leading up to the event and following it changed considerably in the various versions.

The version told by defendant in the first two interviews was reasonably consistent. In these interviews defendant stated that the victim invited him into her apartment, they had a drink and she began to make sexual advances. He became interested and began to participate. Suddenly she turned on him and ordered him out. She grabbed his arm and his testicles (through his loose fitting pants, as both of them were still clothed). This hurt and he took out his baton or nightstick and began hitting her over the head and shoulders to make her release him. When she finally let go, he realized she was dead. He took her clothes off and washed her off in the shower, then put her back on the bed. He heard his replacement, Doyal, drive by. He took his shirt off because it had blood on it and left by the front door of the apartment. He locked the door when he left. He talked to Doyal, and then went home where he took a shower and changed his clothes. He couldn't sleep so he went back to the apartment complex to see if Doyal wanted to go to breakfast. He denied going back into the victim's apartment. He also said that he didn't "make love" to the victim either before killing her or after.

In the third interview, defendant changed his story. This time he said that he engaged in an act of consensual intercourse with the victim in the bedroom. The victim told him not to "come inside [her]," just before he did. She became enraged, pushed him off her and grabbed his testicles. He hit {Page 203 Cal.App.3d 1049} her with the baton. When he realized she was dead, he took her body into the bathroom and attempted to wipe it off.

During the fourth interview defendant admitted the victim did not invite him into the apartment. He said he saw her talking on the phone while he was on his rounds. He entered her apartment through an open bedroom window. He stood in the bedroom till she completed her phone call. When she entered the bedroom she asked him why he was there. When he said he was there to see her, she became upset, started screaming, and they struggled. When she grabbed him, he began to hit her with his baton. Sometime during these events, he heard Doyal, his replacement, drive by. When he realized she was dead, he took off his shirt because there was blood on the sleeves, washed the blood off his baton and left through the front door, leaving it unlocked.

After talking to Doyal, defendant drove home, stopping to get some gas first. He took a shower and changed his clothes. Then he drove back to the apartment complex arriving at approximately 1:30 or 2:00 a.m. He returned to the victim's apartment, entering through the front door. He carried her into the bathroom and tried to clean her off in the sink, but it was too small. He took her clothes off and put her in the shower. He turned down the covers on the bed, put the body back on the bed, and covered the face. He had intercourse with the body, got dressed and left through the front door, locking it after him.

 

Defendant was originally additionally charged with burglary and attempted rape. Defendant's demurrer to those counts was sustained on the ground the statute of limitations on those crimes had run, and those counts were dismissed. In addition, the special circumstance allegations of murder in the commission of burglary and attempted rape (Pen. Code, § 190.2, subds. (a)(17)(vii) and (iii)) were dismissed pursuant to the trial court's order granting defendant's Penal Code section 995 motion. We note the California Supreme Court's recent decision in People v. Morris (1988) 46 Cal.3d 1 [249 Cal.Rptr. 119, 756 P.2d 843] holding that a felony-murder special circumstance is not barred by expiration of the statute of limitations applicable to the underlying crime.

Anderson's mother testified she talked to her daughter on the phone from 10 p.m. to 12:03 a.m. on May 13, 1979.

Sandra Wiersema, a criminalist for the Orange County Sheriff's Department, testified neither the red playsuit or the underpants had been torn. There were no semen or urine stains on either garment. The red playsuit had undiluted bloodstains and blood splatters on the front of it, as well as a diluted bloodstain on the back of it. Wiersema testified the pattern of blood splatters on the red garment "would be consistent with having it on at the time of the attack." She further testified the diluted bloodstain on the back of the garment "would be consistent with having it on at a time when water is being applied in the area of the body."

Wiersema testified when she first saw the victim's body, a white sticky substance was oozing from the victim's vagina. There was a large urine stain and two semen stains on the lavender sheet. The semen stains were identified as number one and number two for convenience of description. Semen stain number one was in the middle of the urine stain. Stain number two was in a different spot. Wiersema was asked, "Where was the location of semen stain number one in relationship to the position of [the victim] when you found her on the bed?" She answered, "It was directly under the vaginal area."

The victim's boyfriend testified he and the victim had had intercourse in the afternoon on Sunday, May 13, 1979.