Case # 13ZF0161
Date: August 29, 2017
CONVICTION UPHELD FOR REGISTERED SEX OFFENDER SERVING LIFE IN PRISON WITHOUT PAROLE FOR SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES MURDER OF 29-YEAR-OLD WOMAN IN THE COURSE OF SEXUAL ASSAULT
*Opinion establishes first degree felony murder rule can be applied to a defendant when a victim dies as a result of the defendant’s inaction
SANTA ANA, Calif. – The California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division Three, affirmed a judgment today of the Superior Court of Orange County by the Honorable Steven D. Bromberg for the special circumstances murder conviction of a man who killed a 29-year-old woman in the course of sexually assaulting her in a Stanton motel room. Charles Patrick Drew, 67, was found guilty by a jury on Sept. 15, 2015,of one felony count of special circumstances murder in the commission of rape, sodomy, oral copulation, and sexual penetration by foreign object, one felony count each of rape of an unconscious person, sodomy of unconscious victim, oral copulation of unconscious person, sexual penetration by foreign object of unconscious victim, and aggravated assault. The defendant’s two prior strike convictions for forcible rape and assault with a deadly weapon in Orange County in 1995 were found to be true. He was sentenced to life in state prison without the possibility of parole on Oct. 23, 2015.
In publishing this opinion, the Court of Appeal established for the first time in California that the felony murder rule can be based on a defendant failing to perform a certain act, and not just based on doing a specific act. The opinion stated in part, “Appellant is correct that the precedential landscape here is not lush … We see no reason in law or logic why the felony murder rule, when otherwise applicable, cannot be applied when the victim dies as a result of inaction by defendant.”
“This decision is a great victory for crime victims and prosecutors throughout the state,” stated District Attorney Tony Rackauckas. “This victim suffered terribly at the defendant’s hands. The Orange County District Attorney’s Office is proud to establish the precedent of holding a defendant accountable for first degree murder based on failure to seek medical assistance for the victim when there is a duty to do so.”
Circumstances of the Case
- Sometime between March 17, 2012, and March 18, 2012, Drew stayed in a rented motel room at Motel 6 in Stanton with 29-year-old Amber Oceja, under the guise that he was the victim’s care-taker.
- During that time, Drew brutally sexually assaulted the victim while she was unconscious in a diabetic coma, including rape, sodomy, and oral copulation.
- Drew also used a razor blade to mutilate several parts of the victim’s body.
- Drew then attempted to clean the scene of the crime and dispose of the materials that he had used to clean the room.
- On March 19, 2012, Drew walked outside of his motel room and asked someone to call 911 because the victim was unresponsive.
- The Orange County Sheriff’s Department responded to the scene and investigated this case.
- The Coroner’s office determined that the victim died due to natural cases (diabetic ketoacidosis) within two hours of the sexual assault.
This case was prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Ebrahim Baytieh. The California Attorney General’s Office handled the appeal for this case.
To read the court’s opinion, please visit: https://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/G052949.PDF
Excerpts from the Opinion
“Indeed, it appears she would have died when she did even if appellant had not sexually assaulted her. However, appellant did not just sexually assault Oceja while she was unconscious, he failed to seek medical assistance for her knowing she was in dire physical condition – a fact which would remain hidden as long as she was confined in his motel room.”
“Instead of trying to help Oceja, appellant sexually assaulted her in a brutal manner.”
“At trial, the prosecutor acknowledged Oceja died from natural causes, i.e., her diabetes. However, he put forth two theories as to why appellant was legally responsible for her death and should be convicted of murder. Both theories were premised, at least in part, on appellant’s failure to seek medical assistance for Oceja once she became incapacitated due to lack of insulin.”
“Appellant argues there is insufficient evidence to support the jury’s verdict of first degree felony murder. In his view, the evidence comes up short in terms of proving a sufficient causal relationship between his sex crimes and Oceja’s death. We disagree.”
“However, appellant did not just sexually assault Oceja while she was unconscious. After the assault, he also kept her secluded in their motel room and deliberately refrained from calling 911 for fear the police would question him about Oceja’s injuries.”
“Given Oceja’s severely asthenic condition, appellant’s failure to act was legally indistinguishable from locking her in a room until she starved or stuffing her in a freezer until she froze to death.”
“… the prosecutor also relied on appellant’s failure to seek medical assistance for Oceja in arguing he was guilty of first degree felony murder. Over and over during his summation to the jury, the prosecutor identified appellant’s failure to pick up the phone and call 911 for help as a factual predicate underlying the state’s felony murder theory.”
“Appellant is correct that the precedential landscape here is not lush.”
“We see no reason in law or logic why the felony murder rule, when otherwise applicable, cannot be applied when the victim dies as a result of inaction by defendant.”