State Court Upholds 1993 Death Penalty Case

The jury reached its verdict nearly 20 years ago, but the man who they sentenced to death still sits on death row.

Frank Heinz,

The California Supreme Court in San Francisco today unanimously  upheld the death penalty of a Yuba County man who killed a teacher and three  students in a shooting rampage at his former high school 20 years ago.
    Eric Houston, 41, was sentenced to death in Napa County Superior  Court in 1993 after being convicted of four counts of first-degree murder, 10  counts of attempted murder, and false imprisonment of student hostages at  Lindhurst High School near Marysville on May 1, 1992.
    The jury also found that he was sane at the time of the shooting.
    The trial was moved to Napa County because of intense publicity in  Yuba County.
    The murdered teacher, Robert Brens, 28, had failed Houston in an  economics course in 1989, and as a result of failing that course and a  similar course in summer school, Houston never got his high school degree.
    Houston, then unemployed, was 20 when he arrived at the school at  about 2 p.m. on May 1, 1992, carrying a shotgun and rifle and wearing a  camouflage vest full of ammunition. 
    He fatally shot Brens and student Judy Davis, 17, in Brens'  classroom and then killed students Jason White, 19, and Beamon Hill, 16, in  two other classrooms. Hill was killed when he pushed another student out of  the way of Houston's gunfire.
    Houston wounded 10 other students and teachers and held up to 85  students hostage until he gradually released groups of students over an  eight-hour period and then surrendered at about 10 p.m.
    Prosecutors said his motive was revenge. They cited statements in  which he told a police officer in a phone call and student hostages during  the siege that Brens had ruined his life by causing him lose his high school  degree, his girlfriend and finally his job as a computer assembler for lack  of a high school degree.
    The defense claimed that Houston was mentally troubled and had  gone to the school to draw attention to his problems, but hadn't intended to  kill anyone, and acted on impulse when he fired his weapons.
    Among other claims in his appeal, Houston argued that there was  insufficient evidence that he intended to murder the victims. Premeditation  is a requirement for a finding of first-degree murder.
    But the high court, in a ruling by Justice Goodwin Liu, said, "The  prosecutor presented overwhelming evidence of planning."
    Houston reconnoitered the school and bought a stock of ammunition  in advance, created a diagram of the school titled "Mission Profile," left a  goodbye note for his family and sawed off the stock of his rifle the night  before the shootings, the court said.
    Houston's lawyer in the appeal, David Schwartz, said, "It's a  difficult case," but declined to comment on the ruling.
    He said Houston will pursue further appeals through habeas corpus  petitions in the state and federal court systems.

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