California

California Death Penalty, Struck Down Over Delays, Faces Next Test


August 29,2015 (NYT)

Whether California’s application of the death penalty is so drawn out and arbitrary that it amounts to cruel and unusual punishment will be argued on Monday before a federal appeals court in Pasadena.

If the lawyers for a condemned man are victorious, the case could bring a reprieve to more than 740 prisoners now on death row at San Quentin State Prison and send legal ripples across the country. Either way, legal experts say, it raises issues about the administration of capital punishment that are likely to reach the Supreme Court over time.

In Monday’s hearing before a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, California officials will seek to overturn a surprise ruling last year by a lower federal court, which declared the state’s “death penalty system” to be unconstitutional

Hailed by death penalty opponents as a breakthrough and attacked by others as unwise and legally out of line, the decision was issued on July 16, 2014, by Judge Cormac J. Carney of Federal District Court in Santa Ana. It focused not on disparities in the meting out of death sentences in the first place — the more familiar charge — but on the decades of tangled and prolonged reviews that follow and the rarity of actual executions.

In a scathing account of what he called a dysfunctional system, Judge Carney noted that of the more than 900 people who had been sentenced to death in California since 1978, when the current legal structure was established, only 13 had been executed.

Citing growing delays in a judicial review process that can take 25 years or more, far above the national norm, Judge Carney said death sentences had been transformed, in effect, into “life in prison, with the remote possibility of death.”

The “random few” who are put to death, he said, “will have languished for so long on death row that their execution will serve no retributive or deterrent purpose and will be arbitrary.”

Judge Carney ruled on the appeal of Ernest Dewayne Jones, who was condemned to die in 1995 for a murder and rape and made a last-ditch plea to a federal court after his appeals to the California Supreme Court had been denied. The judge vacated Mr. Jones’s death sentence as he declared California’s capital-punishment process to be generally unconstitutional.

The decision was a stunning one, and California officials have sharply challenged it on both procedure and substance. They say it was illegitimate because Mr. Jones’s arguments about the arbitrariness of the review system — issues going beyond the long delays alone — had not first been considered in the California courts, as required.

Beyond that, according to the brief from the state’s attorney general, Kamala D. Harris, a Democrat, the delays and rarity of executions do not reflect random quirks. Rather, it says, they are a product of California’s effort to be scrupulously fair, ensuring that condemned prisoners have high-quality lawyers and every opportunity to question the legality of their sentences.

California legislators have required such exhaustive reviews and procedures as “an important safeguard against arbitrariness and caprice,” the state holds, quoting from a 1976 Supreme Court decision.

In a plebiscite in 2012, California voters affirmed the death penalty by a narrow margin, with 52 percent voting to keep it and 48 percent voting to replace it with life in prison without parole.

California inmates normally wait three to five years just for the appointment of a qualified defense lawyer, a delay that may be repeated as convicts pursue two successive state appeals and then a federal one. Beyond the prolonged process of reviewing death sentences, California has had a de facto moratorium on executions since 2006 because of disputes over the method of lethal injection.

The questions of arbitrariness and extreme delay that are raised by the Jones case are important and may well gain purchase in the courts, said Eric M. Freedman, a professor of constitutional law and death penalty expert at Hofstra University.

“But that does not necessarily mean that this particular litigation will be the vehicle by which the courts resolve these issues,” he added, noting that procedural or other questions could lead the appeals panel to overrule the Jones decision.

The arguments made by Mr. Jones’s lawyers — and echoed by Judge Carney — are similar in part to those made in June by Justice Stephen G. Breyer of the Supreme Court. In a sweeping dissent, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice Breyer went beyond the lethal-injection issue at hand to ask whether the death penalty was so marred by unreliable decisions, arbitrary application and delays that it should be abolished.

But conservative justices responded that death penalty opponents, in their zeal to erect obstacles to executions, were responsible for inordinate delays and unpredictability.

If the Ninth Circuit and even the Supreme Court should uphold Judge Carney’s ruling, this would not necessarily cause the death penalty to unravel nationwide, said Douglas A. Berman, an expert on criminal law at the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.

Judge Carney’s decision turned on details specific to California, and with its high number of condemned prisoners and very low pace of executions, the state is in a class by itself, Mr. Berman said. Still, he added, a similar critique might succeed in a few other states, including Pennsylvania and Florida.

Given the deep divisions within California over the death penalty, Mr. Berman added, the state may, in an odd way that has nothing to do with constitutional principles, be well served by the status quo.

“Voters, and perhaps the executive branch, too, are not that troubled with a system that has lots of death sentences and few executions,” Mr. Berman said.

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The death penalty is about to go on trial in California. Here’s why it might lose


On Aug. 31, the death penalty will go on trial at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The oral argument stems from a judgment in 2014, in which Federal District Judge Cormac Carney ruled that California’s death penalty system was unconstitutional.
Carney argued that because of the extremely low likelihood of execution and long delays on death row, the system was actually a penalty of life without parole with the remote possibility of death. His ruling declared that execution after such a long delay serves no retributive or deterrent purpose beyond the long prison term, and is therefore arbitrary and unconstitutional (see Jones v. Chappell, 2014). As Carney wrote in his California decision, no rational jury or legislature would design a system that functions as the system actually works. But, he argued, we must evaluate the system we do have, not the one we might prefer to have.
Nationwide, the “new” death penalty consists of 20 years or more on death row, followed by some probability of execution. The average delay from crime to execution for those executed since 2010 is 16 years across the United States, even longer in California, as the judge noted. 38 % of inmates executed nationally since 2010 served more than 20 years; 17 % served more than 25 years; 5 inmates were killed after more than 35 years of delay. The vast majority are never executed.
In a previous post Anna Dietrich and I documented that only about 16 % of condemned inmates across the nation have been executed. By far, the most likely outcome of a death sentence is that it will be overturned on appeal. Many death row inmates simply die of old age. For those few where the death sentence is actually carried out, increasing percentages languish on death row literally for decades before execution.
Supporters of the death penalty argue that Carney overstepped with his sweeping decision throwing out the entire California death penalty. Oral arguments in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will begin at the end of this month. California certainly was at the low end of the distribution of “efficiency” in carrying out its death sentences in our previous analysis. Out of more than 900 death sentences, the state has carried out just 13 executions. It stands as one of the few states, along with Pennsylvania, that has large numbers of death sentences that result in very few executions.
What’s the lag time between sentence and execution outside California?
Except for Virginia, no state in the country carries out even 1/2 of all its death sentences. The most common outcome after a death penalty, by far, is reversal of the death sentence with a new sentence of life without parole. Inmates may sit on death row for years before this reversal.
This graph looks at 1,379 of the 1,394 executions that were carried out between 1977 and 2014 (I could not recover the date of the crime for 15 cases), showing the length of time from crime to execution. Of course, inmates do not move straight from the crime scene to death row. However, there has been no significant increase in the time between crime and death sentence, which averages 1.5 years.
Why is there so much time from sentence to execution?
Delays come for many reasons. Death penalties in California and elsewhere trigger a mandatory appeal to a state’s top court, and then, if not reversed, through the federal system. These are part of the safeguards mandated by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1976 Gregg decision ushering in the “modern” death penalty. Carney noted that in California, appeals attorneys are not appointed for 3 to 5 years. They take 4 years to learn the case and file their appeal. Attorneys for habeas appeal (through the federal courts) are not appointed, on average, until 8 to 10 years after the death sentence.
Most of this delay results from a severe backlog of death penalty cases, a lack of qualified attorneys who are willing to accept capital assignments under the conditions that the state offers, and delays in appointing required qualified defense counsel.
How long does it take, exactly, to carry out the death penalty?
Each dot on the figure refers to a particular inmate executed. At the lower-left corner, the 1st case is the 1st “modern” execution: Gary Gilmore, executed by firing squad in Utah in 1977. Vertical placement of the dot indicates the number of years from the crime to the execution. Horizontal placement indicates the date of the execution.
As you can see, some executions occur relatively quickly, even today. Across the bottom of the graph are those inmates who “volunteer” for execution by instructing their attorneys to abandon all appeals. 20 of the 206 inmates executed since 2010 waited fewer than 5 years from crime to execution. However, you can see that average delays are increasing dramatically (about one additional year of delay every 3 years), and that increasing numbers of inmates are serving very long sentences before being executed. Many more remain on death row with no execution in sight.
For the 206 inmates executed since 2010, their average time from crime to execution was 16 years. 36 served more than 25 years before their execution. Overall, through 2014, 178 inmates have been executed after serving more than 20 years; 58 after more than 25 years; 14 after more than 30 years; and 5 after more than 35 years. Florida executed Thomas Knight in January 2014 for a crime committed in January 1974 – almost 40 years later. In contrast, Gilmore was killed by Utah’s firing squad in January 1977 for a crime that occurred in July 1976. Knight’s crime came 2 years before Gilmore’s, but he waited another 37 years after Gilmore’s execution on Florida’s death row before that state put him to death.
In the recent Glossip v. Gross decision affirming the use of lethal injection, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed its support for the death penalty in the opening words of the majority decision: “Because capital punishment is constitutional, there must be a constitutional means for carrying it out.”
In his dissenting opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer noted a number of practical problems with the administration of the punishment. He noted 3 “fundamental constitutional defects”: 1) unreliability; 2) arbitrariness; and 3) unconscionably long delays. These have led, he wrote, to 4) abandonment of the penalty by most places within the United States. Since the Court’s 1976 reaffirmation of capital punishment, replete with new constitutional “safeguards sufficient to ensure that the penalty would be applied reliably and not arbitrarily,” numerous practical problems have emerged, Breyer wrote. “The circumstances and the evidence of the death penalty’s application have changed radically since then,” he wrote. “Given those changes, I believe it is now time to reopen the question.”
Source: The Washington Post, Frank Baumgartner, August 5, 2015. Mr. Baumgartner is the Richard J. Richardson distinguished professor of political science at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

 

California: Six inmates on San Quentin death row sue over time in solitary


A group of death row inmates has sued the state for keeping them in solitary confinement for years or even decades, locked in windowless cells with no phone calls or human contact. It’s treatment, they said, that “amounts to torture.”
The suit was filed in federal court Wednesday by 6 condemned prisoners, who said they were among about 100 inmates, out of 750 on death row, who are kept in isolation in the Adjustment Center at San Quentin State Prison as suspected gang members or associates. The suit said they are held in their cells 21 to 24 hours a day, with no natural light, no access to education or work programs, no phone calls and no contact visits from family members, who must speak to them by phone across a glass barrier.
One of the men has been in solitary confinement for 26 years, and 2 others for more than a decade, the suit said. Condemned prisoners in California spend an average of nearly 25 years on death row while their cases are appealed. A federal judge cited the duration of their confinement, though not the conditions, in a ruling last year that declared the state’s death penalty unconstitutional. The state has appealed the ruling.
The suit is similar to a case scheduled for trial in December in federal court in Oakland over the solitary confinement of thousands of inmates in various prisons’ Security Housing Units, the maximum-security lockups that house prisoners suspected of gang affiliations. The San Quentin suit was filed separately because the adjustment center isn’t classified as a Security Housing Unit, although the conditions are similar, said Daniel Siegel, lawyer for the death row inmates.
Inmates in both cases claim their isolation violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment and denies them due process of law. Until recently, they said, the only way out of the isolation unit was to become an informant. Prison officials say they now conduct case-by-case reviews of each inmate’s gang status or affiliations, and have released some inmates into the general prison population. But inmates say they are still kept in solitary confinement because of books they’ve read or cartoons found in their cells.
Siegel said release from isolation is even harder to win on death row. He said some inmates have been kept in the Adjustment Center solely because their capital crimes were gang-related.
Terry Thornton, spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said officials haven’t seen the suit and can’t comment on it. But she said no inmates are held in the cells for 24 hours a day, because they’re entitled to 10 hours a week in the prison exercise yard.
Source: Associated Press, June 19, 2015

Justice Kennedy practically invites a challenge to solitary confinement

Courts ‘may be required’ to decide if prisons need to find alternatives to solitary, Kennedy says

Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, in an unusual separate opinion in a case wrote that it may be time for judges to limit the use of long-term solitary confinement in prisons.

His comments accompanying a decision issued Thursday marked a rare instance of a Supreme Court justice virtually inviting a constitutional challenge to a prison policy.

“Years on end of near-total isolation exacts a terrible price,” he wrote. He cited the writings of Charles Dickens and 19th century Supreme Court opinions that recognized “even for prisoners sentenced to death, solitary confinement bears ‘a further terror and a peculiar mark of infamy.'”

Sentencing judges and the high court have largely ignored the issue, Kennedy said, focusing their attention on questions of guilt or innocence or on the constitutionality of the death penalty.

“In a case that presented the issue, the judiciary may be required,” he wrote, “to determine whether workable alternative systems for long-term confinement exist, and, if so, whether a correctional system should be required to adopt them.”

Amy Fettig, an attorney for the ACLU’s National Prison Project, said Kennedy’s comments came as a welcome surprise.

“It’s a remarkable statement. The justice is sending a strong signal he is deeply concerned about the overuse and abuse of solitary confinement,” she said.

States such as Virginia and Texas routinely put death-row inmates in solitary confinement, she said. “They are automatically placed there. It has nothing to do with their being violent or their level of dangerousness,” she said.

This month, a federal judge in Virginia is weighing a “cruel and unusual punishment” claim brought by inmates on death row there, she noted.

Kennedy usually joins with the court’s conservatives in cases involving crime and punishment, but he has also voiced concern over prison policies that he deems unduly harsh. These include life terms for juveniles and long mandatory prison terms for nonviolent drug crimes. 4 years ago, he spoke for a 5-4 majority that condemned overcrowding in California’s prisons and said it resulted in unconstitutionally cruel conditions.

Both sides of Kennedy’s views were evident in Thursday’s decision. He joined a 5-4 majority to reject a San Diego murderer’s bid for a new trial, but wrote separately to raise the issue of possible constitutional limits to solitary confinement.

The case before the court involved Hector Ayala, who had been convicted and sentenced to die for shooting to death 3 men in the attempted robbery of an auto body shop in 1985. A 4th man had been shot, but survived and identified Ayala as the shooter.

Ayala has been on California’s death row ever since his conviction a generation ago. The California courts upheld his conviction and death sentence, but 2 years ago a U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel overturned both. In a 2-1 decision, the appeals court cited the trial judge’s decision permitting prosecutors to remove all seven of the blacks and Latinos who were considered for the jury.

The Supreme Court reversed that decision and restored Ayala’s conviction and death sentence. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said the “conscientious trial judge” had spoken to each of the potential jurors and decided the prosecutor was justified in removing them. “His judgment was entitled to great weight,” he concluded.

In his separate opinion, Kennedy said he agreed Alito’s opinion was “complete and correct,” but said he was nonetheless troubled to learn Ayala had been kept in solitary confinement. This means he has “been held for all or most of the past 20 years or more in a windowless cell no larger than a typical parking spot for 23 hours a day,” he wrote. An estimated 25,000 inmates in the United States are being held in solitary confinement without regard to their conduct in prison, he added.

Kennedy’s comments drew a short, but sharp retort from Justice Clarence Thomas.

“The accommodations in which Ayala is housed are a far sight more spacious than those in which his victims … now rest. And, given that his victims were all 31 years or age or under, Ayala will soon have had as much or more time to enjoy those accommodations as his victims had time to enjoy this Earth,” Thomas wrote.

Source: Los Angeles Times, June 19, 2015

Fresno’s most notorious mass murder remembered


march 12, 2014

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) — On this day ten years ago Fresno was rocked by an unthinkable crime. Nine people were shot and killed inside their home. Marcus Wesson would be convicted of murdering his own kids and grandkids.

The Marcus Wesson case serves as Fresno’s most notorious mass murder. The crime scene was so disturbing it brought veteran officers to tears and drew worldwide attention.

People drive by a barely noticeable vacant lot near Roeding Park every day. Many of them unaware what took place here ten years ago. Cameron Caskey lived across the street. He said, “We actually ended up hearing two gun shots.”

Neighbors had no idea what police officers would discover inside 761 Hammond Avenue. Nine of Wesson’s children and grandchildren were shot dead and stacked in a back bedroom of the home.

Fresno police chief Jerry Dyer recalled, “The officers and the crime scene investigators that had to process that, as well as the investigators, it took a toll on them. It was one of the most horrific things this city has seen.”

Today Marcus Wesson sits on death row at San Quentin. He was convicted of nine counts of first degree murder and several counts of rape and molestation. Wesson fathered children with his underage daughters.

Fresno County Assistant DA Lisa Gamoan was chief prosecutor in the case. Gamoian said, “When you see the manipulation, the psychological methods he was using to control all the these girls, he even financially exploited them. It made sense he would be directing the ultimate act.”

Fresno County District Attorney Elizabeth Egan said, “It was astounding how deprived this defendant was.”

Gamoian set out to bring the victims to life for the jury. “How much of life we take for granted that they never got to experience.”

After the murders crowds disrupted the quiet neighborhood. Caskey said, “Even for years after that people would drive by Marcus Wesson’s property and slowly pass by. That got a little tiring.”

That is, until a local real estate group bought the home and tore it down. The property was later sold to the city of Fresno.

Marcus Wesson’s surviving children have talked about how it felt like living in a prison. Lisa Gamoian refers to family survivors as the walking wounded.

abclocal.go

San Quentin Death Row Inmate Found Dead in Cell- Ralph Michael Yeoman


march 6. 2014

A death row inmate at San Quentin State Prison died in custody this week, a prison spokesman said.

Ralph Michael Yeoman, 66, who was sentenced to death for the 1988 murder of a Sacramento County woman, was found unresponsive in his cell Tuesday  morning and subsequently pronounced dead at 5:24 a.m., according to Lt. Sam Robinson.

The cause of death remains unknown pending the results of an autopsy, Robinson said.

Yeoman was convicted of first-degree murder following the Feb. 13, 1988, killing, kidnap and robbery of 73-year-old Doris Horrell, a Citrus Heights resident, according to Robinson.

Her body was found later that evening in an open field west of Interstate Highway 5, near the former Arco Arena.

Yeoman was sentenced to death for the crime and had been on death row since July 23, 1990.

Since 1978 when California reinstated capital punishment, 63 condemned inmates have died from natural causes. Additionally, 23 have committed suicide, 13 have been executed in California, and one was executed in Missouri.

Six died from other causes, and the cause of death is still pending for two condemned inmates.

Of the 725 male offenders on California’s death row, 706 are housed at San Quentin. Nineteen condemned inmates are either out to court, in medical facilities or in custody in other jurisdictions.

Jason Michael Hann has been convicted of killing his 2-month-old son and 10-month old daughter and hiding their bodies in storage units.


february 21, 2014

INDIO, Calif. — A man who has been convicted of killing two of his infant children and hiding their plastic-wrapped bodies in storage units in Arkansas and Arizona was sentenced to death Friday in a California courthouse.

Jason Michael Hann, 39, who is already serving a 30-year sentence for the murder of his 2-month-old son, Jason, received the death penalty for the slaying of his 10-month-old daughter, Montana.

“These kids never had a chance of life,” said Bruce Price, an alternate juror who supported the death penalty decision. “This guy was trying to cover up his crimes as he went along.”

Some jurors initially resisted sending Hann to his death, but they eventually agreed to recommend that he die for his crimes. Riverside Superior Court Judge James Hawkins upheld the death sentence, denying a defense motion to reduce the sentence to life without parole.

Hann did not speak in his own defense. He sat in court, wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, showing no signs of emotion.

Montana’s mother, Krissy Lyyn Werntz, was also charged in the killing. Her trial is scheduled to start on March 17.

Hann killed his infant daughter with a blow to head in Desert Hot Springs in 2001. Prosecutors said Hann wrapped her body in duct tape and plastic bags, then hid it in a blue “Tupperware-type” container stashed in a storage unit in Arkansas.

The body was found a year later after Hann stopped making payments on the storage unit. The contents of the unit were auctioned off, and the body was discovered by the new owner.

Hann and Wertz were arrested in 2002 at a motel in Portland, Maine. A day after the arrest, investigators found the body of the second infant, Jason, in a storage unit in Lake Havasu, Ariz. The boy, who had been killed in Vermont in 1999, and was also in a rubber container.

When the couple was arrested in Maine, they had in their custody a new child, a month old boy who also showed signs of abuse, including broken ribs, bleeding under his skin and internal injuries.

After the court hearing Friday, Price said the abused child was more proof that Hann deserved death. If the boy had not been saved, he likely would have suffered the same fate as his siblings, the juror said.

“(Hann) had already committed a crime against someone and he was in the process of doing the same thing,” Price said. “He got what he deserved.”

CALIFORNIA : Death sentence upheld for Montebello woman who murdered her husband – Angelina Rodriguez


february 20, 2014(latimes)

Angelina Rodriguez during her 2004 sentencing for murder. Her death sentence was upheld Thursday by the California Supreme CourtSAN FRANCISCO — The California Supreme Court unanimously upheld the death penalty Thursday for a Montebello woman convicted of murdering her husband for life insurance and implicated in the choking death years earlier of her baby daughter.

 

Angelina Rodriguez fatally poisoned her husband, a special education teacher, by serving him drinks laced with oleander and antifreeze in 2000, a few months after persuading him to take out joint life insurance policies, the court said.

It was her second attempt, according to the ruling written by Justice Ming W. Chin.  She had previously tried to kill him by loosening natural gas valves in their garage, the court said.

Rodriguez had married Jose Francisco Rodriguez several months before his death.

During her murder trial, the prosecution also presented evidence implicating her in the 1993 death of her 13-month-old daughter, Alicia. Rodriguez was married to another man at the time.

The baby died after choking on the rubber nipple of a pacifier. Two months earlier, Rodriguez had taken out a $50,000 life insurance policy on the baby—without her then-husband’s knowledge—and made herself the beneficiary, the court said.

Rodriguez and Alicia’s father also sued the manufacturer of the pacifier, which had been recalled based on five consumer complaints that it had broken apart. The company paid a $710,000 settlement.

While behind bars for the murder of her husband, Rodriguez  tried to dissuade a witness from testifying against her, the court said. The jury convicted of her interfering with the witness but failed to reach a verdict on a charge that she tried to have the witness murdered.

In challenging her conviction and sentence, Rodriguez argued, among other things, that the jury should not have been told she killed her daughter.  Rodriguez was not charged or convicted in connection with the death, but law enforcement reexamined it after the poisoning of her husband.

The court said the jury was entitled to hear about the child’s death during the penalty phase of deliberations.

“There was ample evidence that defendant murdered her daughter,” Chin wrote.

Karen Kelly, who is representing Rodriguez on appeal, said she would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision.

California supreme court /opinion : click to read, pdf file

CALIFORNIA – Fresno serial killer dies as Sacramento inmate – WILBUR JENNINGS


February 12. 2014

An inmate of the Sacramento County Main Jail who died at a hospital Tuesday morning has been identified as a serial killer, officials said.

Wilbur Jennings was 73 years old. His death doesn’t appear suspicious in nature, according to the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department.

Jennings was convicted and sentenced to death in the 1980s for a long list of crimes, including rape, robbery and murder.

His four female victims were from the Fresno area. Jennings spent much of his time at San Quentin State Prison on death row.

He appealed the death penalty in 1991.

In 2005, Jennings was transferred to Sacramento County to stand trial on the 1981 rape and murder of Debra Chandler.

At the time of his death, the case still had not had a preliminary hearing, the Sacramento district attorney indicated, because it involved evidence from the Fresno case that was tied up on appeals in the federal court.

Then in 2008, DNA evidence tied Jennings to yet another rape and murder of a fifth Fresno woman killed in 1983.

Despite the death penalty and the new pending murder cases against Jennings, it was his terminal illness that killed him.

The Sheriff’s Department will conduct a thorough inmate-death investigation in accordance with the department procedures and state laws.

Jennings has a long medical history. He died about 10:30 a.m. Monday.

Ex-governors want California death penalty reform


february 14, 2014

LOS ANGELES — Three former California governors announced a proposed ballot initiative Thursday designed to speed up the state’s lengthy death penalty process.

Former Govs. George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson and Gray Davis said they were launching a signature-gathering effort for the measure that would limit appeals available to death row inmates, remove the prisoners from special death row housing, and require them to work at prison jobs in order to pay restitution to victims.

The former governors, appearing with law enforcement officials at a news conference, made it clear they want executions to begin as soon as possible. There are more than 700 prisoners on California’s death row.

“Old age should not be the leading cause of death on death row,” former Gov. Pete Wilson said.

They agreed the death penalty system is crippled by waste and inefficiency.

“We all know the death penalty system is broken at the appellate level,” said former Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley.

His predecessor in that job, Gil Garcetti, is leading the opposition to the initiative and was a proponent of Proposition 34, the 2012 ballot measure that would have repealed the death penalty in California. The vote was 48 percent in favor and 52 percent opposed, one of the closest votes ever on a death penalty referendum.

A statement from the former governors said “Californians overwhelmingly reaffirmed their support for the death penalty” with the vote on Prop. 34.

Executions have been halted since 2006 because of lawsuits in federal and state courts over changing a three-drug lethal-injection method that had been used to carry out death sentences.

Asked about the availability of drugs to carry out executions, the governors said they could not comment and that would be an issue for the California Department of Corrections.

Two relatives of victims spoke and decried the length of time it takes to resolve a death penalty appeal. Phyllis Loya said it took four years for an attorney to be assigned to a man convicted of killing her son.

Davis said it can take 10 years before a federal application for review of a death penalty case is resolved and another 10 years to clear state appellate courts.

San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael Ramos, representing the California District Attorneys Association, said if the initiative passes there would be no frivolous appeals and the state would see enormous fiscal savings.

With the initiative, backers want to bypass automatic appeals to the California Supreme Court and instead distribute them to other appeals courts unless it is necessary for a case to be heard by the high court.

Absent from the press conference were former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and current Gov. Jerry Brown. Brown is personally opposed to the death penalty but has said he would abide by the law.

He declined comment on the proposed initiative Thursday.

Garcetti called the initiative a misguided effort and predicted legal challenges would take decades to resolve.

Anna Zamora of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California later issued a statement saying: “This flawed proposal will only make matters worse. It will create more delays and overburden our already strained court system. Worst of all, it will greatly increase the risk that California could execute an innocent person.”

(Source: AP, Sacramento Bee)

CALIFORNIA : Man gets death penalty in 1988 murder of pregnant woman – Jason Michael Balcom


february 7, 2014 (latimes)

A man who raped and murdered a pregnant woman in her Costa Mesa home a quarter of a century ago was sentenced to death Friday.

 

Jason Michael Balcom strangled and stabbed 22-year-old Malinda Gibbons in the chest on July 18, 1988.

Her husband, Kent Gibbons, found his wife dead in their apartment, bound and gagged with his neckties. Police said she had been sexually assaulted.

At the time of the crime, Balcom, then 18, was living with his mother and aunt in a Costa Mesa motel less than a mile away from the apartment. He had been  released from juvenile hall just weeks before the murder.

Investigators cracked the cold case more than a decade later when DNA evidence linked Balcom, now 43, to the crime.

Balcom’s DNA was entered into a nationwide database in 2004 after he was convicted of rape in Michigan, where he and his mother moved after the murder.

He was serving a 50-year prison term when Orange County prosecutors extradited him  to stand trial.

In 2012, an Orange County jury convicted Balcom of first-degree murder with sentencing enhancements for murder during commission of sodomy, rape, robbery and burglary. But jurors deadlocked on whether to recommend the death penalty.

A second jury recommended the death penalty last year, a decision that was affirmed in Superior Court on Friday.