From Major’s appeal: Donald Hobbs, who was 10 years old at the time of trial, lived in a house on Kaula Drive in the Sacramento suburb of Fair Oaks with his mother, Jeanine Copeland (Copeland), and Thomas Probst (Probst), her live-in companion. On the morning of January 26, 1989, after finishing his breakfast, Hobbs found Copeland lying on the floor and noticed blood next to her head. When Hobbs was unable to awaken her, he called “911.” 2 Sheriff’s deputies responding to the scene discovered the bodies of Copeland, Probst, and Patrick Mungavin (Mungavin).
Copeland was lying facedown on the living room carpet. She had been struck by a gunshot, fired at close range, that entered at her right temple and exited on the left side of her neck. A forensic pathologist testified that such a wound would have caused an immediate loss of consciousness and that death would have ensued within a matter of minutes. In his opinion, Copeland had been killed between midnight and 6 a.m. on January 26. Tests of Copeland’s blood showed evidence of methamphetamine use.
Mungavin was seated on the living room couch with his hands folded in his lap, his head over to one side, and blood coming from his right nostril. He had a loaded .22-caliber handgun under his left armpit, but there was no evidence that the handgun had been fired. Mungavin had suffered multiple gunshot wounds, including a fatal wound to the back of his head. The forensic pathologist estimated the time of Mungavin’s death to be between midnight and 6 a.m. on January 26; he could not determine to a medical certainty that Mungavin had been shot at the location where his body was found. Although Mungavin had methamphetamine on his person, there was no evidence of either drugs or alcohol in his system. A criminalist testified that .38-caliber bullets removed from Mungavin’s body had most likely been fired from either a “.38 special” or a .357 magnum. A hollow-point slug found underneath Mungavin’s right leg, between his leg and the couch, appeared to have been fired from the same weapon.
Probst was lying on the floor of a bedroom that had been turned into an office. Probst had sustained a fatal wound to his left cheek by a gunshot fired at close range. He also suffered an abrasion to the right side of his face consistent with falling as a result of the gunshot wound. The forensic pathologist estimated the time of Probst’s death to be between midnight and 5 a.m. on January 26; he could not be certain that Probst had been shot at the location where his body was found. Probst’s blood tested positive for Valium and methamphetamine. A criminalist testified that an expended .32-caliber bullet removed from the right side of Probst’s neck had been fired from either a .32-caliber semiautomatic pistol or a .32-caliber revolver. The contents of a wallet were strewn about the office, and Probst’s pants pockets were pulled out.
In the office where Probst’s body was found, deputies found evidence of drug sales, including a scale, packaging material, a cutting agent, a pay-owe sheet, and powder residue on the surface of a mirror. Deputies also found a loaded, sawed-off .12-gauge shotgun leaning up against the wall in the corner of the room. A number of witnesses confirmed that Probst was a methamphetamine and marijuana dealer.
In the hallway of the residence, deputies found a screwdriver, a hammer, and a strongbox or safe that appeared to have been pried open. They also noted a depression in the carpet of the office closet floor that was approximately the same size as the strongbox or safe. Probst was known to keep a safe in this location, where he stored jewelry, drugs, and proceeds from drug sales. Although both Probst and Copeland were known to wear jewelry, there was no jewelry on their bodies except for an anklet around Copeland’s ankle. Jewelry boxes in the residence were empty, and there was evidence of ransacking. There was no sign of forced entry into the residence itself and no evidence of a struggle.
During the course of their investigation, deputies alerted Probst’s parents to the possibility of an Arizona connection to the homicides. Subsequently, while going through Probst’s belongings, his mother found a note with the name “Robert Reese” and the address 14031 North 72d Lane in Peoria, Arizona. According to Probst’s mother, the note was not in his handwriting.
At trial, the prosecution theorized that the three victims had been killed by defendant and Robert Reese (Reese) during the course of a drug-related robbery. The prosecution offered extensive circumstantial evidence in support of this theory.
In December 1988, Reese lived in a house on 72d Lane in Peoria, Arizona. Defendant also had a room at the house, although it was not his primary residence. Both defendant and Reese moved out shortly after Christmas of 1988.
According to a neighbor of Reese’s aunt, defendant and Reese visited the aunt at her apartment in Rancho Cordova, near Sacramento, sometime between December 27 and December 29, 1988, at approximately 10:30 to 11 p.m. Reese was acting in a hyperactive fashion and appeared to be under the influence of drugs. Other witnesses confirmed that Reese sold and used methamphetamine. Reese was also known to carry firearms.
Several witnesses testified that Probst was planning to conduct a drug transaction with someone from out of state the night he was killed. Probst’s brother, Wayne Probst, who was at Probst’s house until about 9:20 or 9:30 p.m. on January 25, 1989, testified that Probst told him he had arranged a deal to sell a pound of methamphetamine later that evening. According to Wayne Probst, his brother had an established clientele and dealt only with customers he knew.
James Pluskett, who talked to Probst on the telephone between 8 and 10 p.m. on January 25, offered similar testimony regarding Probst’s plans to sell $10,000 worth of methamphetamine to someone who was flying in from Las Vegas. Pluskett understood this to be about a pound of methamphetamine. He thought two people were involved in the purchase, the person actually making the purchase and the person providing the money. Pluskett assumed these were the same regular customers from Arizona who purchased a half-pound of methamphetamine from Probst every couple of weeks.
Freddie Gregg, who was at Probst’s house until about 11 or 11:30 p.m. on January 25, testified that Probst told him he was expecting a visit from someone from Arizona who would be bringing drug paraphernalia. During Gregg’s visit, Probst took him into the kitchen and showed him a plastic freezer bag filled with methamphetamine. The bag was approximately the size of a tissue box.
Sandra Morgera, who was at Probst’s house until about 11:15 or 11:30 p.m. on January 25, testified that Probst told her he had another two deals scheduled that night, one of which was a deal with Gregg, which occurred before she left. The second deal was a $10,000 deal with people from Arizona for a pound or a pound and a half of drugs. On cross-examination, Morgera admitted she might have gotten the $10,000 figure from newspaper articles about the case, admitted Probst had told her about both a drug purchase and a drug sale scheduled for that evening, and admitted it was not until trial that she stated one of the two deals was the deal with Gregg.
Catherine Bailey, who spent the day at Probst’s house on January 25, testified that Probst told her he had just bought a pound of methamphetamine and was planning to conduct a drug transaction with someone from Arizona. According to Bailey, Probst told her he had completed another transaction with the same person about a month earlier and the person felt he had been “burned.” Although she was unclear as to how she acquired the information, Bailey identified the person as Robert Reese of Peoria, Arizona.3 Before Bailey left, Probst had her sample the methamphetamine to make sure it was okay. While Bailey was in Probst’s office, she saw a large amount of cash. Probst told her it was about $2,000.
Several witnesses from Arizona offered details regarding a trip defendant and Reese had taken to California. Michelle Blouir, Reese’s former girlfriend, testified that defendant and Reese had taken an evening trip to California sometime in January. Shortly before they left, Blouir saw defendant with two brand new pairs of dark cotton garden-type gloves still in their original packaging. She watched defendant hand one of the pairs to Reese.4 Later, on Valentine’s Day, while Blouir was talking on the telephone to a detective from Sacramento, Reese asked whom she was talking to. When she told him, he appeared frightened, bolted out of the apartment, and drove away. To the best of her recollection, defendant and Reese’s trip to California had been about two weeks earlier. Blouir also talked to defendant about a week after he came back from the trip. He told her he had gone to California to get drugs and that Reese had left him in a motel room for six hours and had never come back, so defendant flew back home.
Kristi Crancer, a friend of Blouir’s, verified the timing of the trip, testifying that it had occurred about a week after her January 19, 1989, graduation. When Reese returned from the trip, he showed Crancer jewelry, a plastic bag of drugs, and two handfuls of money. Crancer also confirmed that Reese had left abruptly when he found out that Blouir was talking to a detective from Sacramento.
The parties stipulated that if Karen Brott were called as a witness she would have testified that Reese showed her a plastic bag of drugs, a large amount of cash, and two items of jewelry after he returned from Sacramento. Reese told her the bag contained a quarter- or half-pound of methamphetamine and that he had approximately $12,000 in cash. Reese later called Brott on February 14, 1989, and asked her if anyone was looking for him.
Richard Hartley, a housemate of defendant’s at the residence on 72d Lane, testified that defendant was involved in both the methamphetamine and gun trades.5 When defendant used methamphetamine, he ingested the drug by sprinkling it on tissue paper, which he then wadded up and ate. Hartley acknowledged he had previously told investigators only about “suspicions” defendant used methamphetamine and had not told them about being involved in several drug transactions with defendant. On February 14, 1989, detectives from Sacramento came looking for Reese as a suspect in a triple homicide. After meeting with the detectives, Hartley met with defendant, who told him about a trip he and Reese had taken to Sacramento. According to defendant, he had sold a pound of marijuana there. Defendant told Hartley he had stayed in a motel room with a prostitute and that Reese was gone overnight with their rental car. When Reese returned the next day, he was acting in a paranoid fashion and said he wanted to go home. Defendant and Reese ended up taking separate flights home.
Thomas Kenneth Probst, 30
Jeannine Annette Twiggy Copeland, 30
Patrick James Mungavin, 24
A blast from the past
People of the State of California v James David Majors 1998 (conviction and sentence affirmed)
San Quentin inmate dies of unknown causes on death row
Condemned Inmate James Majors Dies of Unknown Causes
James David Majors – convicted, sentenced to death; died on death row 1/26/2017
Robert Reese – shot to death a month after the murders in Arizona
Inmate Name: MAJORS, JAMES DAVID
Admission Date: 02/14/1991
Current Location: San Quentin
Filed under: crime, Deadly Duo, death penalty, Mass Murder, murder, murder in the 20th Century | Tagged: 1989, California, death penalty, homicide, Mass Murder, robbery, shooting | 1 Comment »