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Death Sentence Upheld in 1988 Berkeley Murder, Bludgeoning Case

Bay City News
Tuesday July 31, 2007

The California Supreme Court Monday upheld a death penalty for a former Berkeley waterfront commissioner who brutally beat a university professor and his wife and then murdered and dismembered a fellow commissioner who would have testified against him. 

Enrique Zambrano, 63, a contractor who also served on the Berkeley Waterfront Commission, was given the death penalty in Alameda County Superior Court in 1993 for murdering fellow commissioner Luis Reyna in July 1988.  

Reyna’s body, missing head and hands, was found in the Lafayette hills. Prosecutors said the murder motive was to prevent Reyna from testifying that Zambrano told him he had brutally bludgeoned Robert and Barbara Mishell six months earlier, on Jan. 31, 1988. 

Robert Mishell, a University of California immunology professor, and Barbara Mishell, who managed her husband’s laboratory, were severely injured in the attack at their Berkeley home but survived.  

Prosecutors said Zambrano, who had done remodeling work for the couple, believed they had made anonymous phone calls revealing he was having an extramarital affair with a girlfriend. He was convicted of their attempted murder.  

Zambrano admitted during his trial that he attacked the Mishells, but said he had “lost control,” and admitted he was present at Reyna’s death and later decapitated and hid the body. But he contended Reyna was accidentally killed during a struggle over a gun. 

The state high court, in a ruling issued in San Francisco, rejected a series of claims in which Zambrano challenged jury selection, jury instructions and prosecution closing arguments at his trial and argued that a death sentence was disproportionate to his crimes. 

Justice Marvin Baxter wrote, “We reject the claim” of a disproportionate sentence. 

“He was a successful contractor and public official who brutally assaulted Robert and Barbara Mishell, leaving both with permanent disabilities, because he believed they had exposed his extramarital affair,” Baxter wrote for the court. 

“After admitting this assault to his friend and fellow official, Luis Reyna, he murdered Reyna to prevent Reyna’s testimony against him in the Mishell matter, then decapitated and dismembered Reyna’s body and dumped it in a remote location in order to hamper the body’s identification,” the court said.  

“Under these circumstances, defendant’s death sentence is not so disproportionate as to ... offend fundamental notions of human dignity,” Baxter said.  

All seven justices upheld Zambrano’s convictions for attempted murder and first-degree murder with a special circumstance of witness killing.  

Six of the judges upheld the death sentence, but Justice Joyce Kennard said in a partial dissent that Zambrano should be given a new penalty trial because of errors in jury selection and prosecution arguments.  

Today’s ruling on Zambrano’s direct appeal from the trial court is the first step in the lengthy appeal process in California death penalty cases.  

Zambrano also has a habeas corpus petition pending before the state high court and if he loses that appeal, he can file a similar petition in federal court. 

Reyna was initially silent, but gave police a taped statement on April 15, 1988, saying that Zambrano had confessed to him. Two days later, Zambrano was arrested. 

After Zambrano posted bail in the Mishell assault case on July 15, he arranged a July 18 meeting with Reyna. Reyna left his home for the meeting and was never seen alive again. 

Zambrano then fled to Mexico with his girlfriend, Linda “Celebration” Oberman, and was arrested on a visit to Palm Springs in 1989.