[Deathpenalty]death penalty news-----CALIFORNIA
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Jan 2 20:22:02 CST 2006
Governor faces clemency decision in another death penalty case----CLARENCE
RAY ALLEN WOULD BE OLDEST CALIFORNIA INMATE EVER EXECUTED
If California puts condemned killer Clarence Ray Allen to death on Jan.
17, it will be a very different kind of execution.
Allen will be rolled in a wheelchair to the door of San Quentin State
Prison's drab green execution chamber, where prison guards will
essentially have to lift him onto a gurney. Allen, legally blind, is
unlikely to be able to make out much of what will be happening around him
as he receives a lethal dose of drugs, according to court documents.
At 76, he will be the oldest inmate ever executed in California and the
2nd-oldest in U.S. history.
To Allen's lawyers and death penalty opponents, the execution of a feeble
old man would amount to cruel and unusual punishment. And Allen's case is
likely to foreshadow an increasingly common occurrence for California,
where more and more graying old murderers on the nation's largest death
row could be executed decades after their crimes.
"What societal interests are going to be furthered if the execution takes
place under this set of circumstances?" asked Annette Carnegie, one of
Allen's lawyers. "There is something horribly wrong with that picture."
But the other side to Allen's story is not so sympathetic. He has been
convicted of ordering four murders in his lifetime and is on death row for
a spree of violence in the Central Valley in the 1970s and early 1980s
that still sends shudders through law enforcement and his victims'
families. To prosecutors and death penalty supporters, Allen has had the
benefit of 23 years of appeals in the courts and, regardless of his age
and medical condition, must now pay the price for his crimes.
"I have no sympathy for him," said Tricia Pendergrass, whose brother,
Bryon Schletewitz, was one of Allen's murder victims. "He was allowed to
grow old. He chose his life."
With weeks to go before the scheduled execution, Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger and the courts are wrestling with Allen's argument that his
age and deteriorating medical condition are reasons for a reprieve. Allen
has petitioned Schwarzenegger for clemency, and at the same time asked the
California Supreme Court to rule that executing him would be
Schwarzenegger said Friday he would not hold a public clemency hearing for
Allen, but he could hold a private clemency hearing, as he did for Stanley
Tookie Williams, who was executed last month. Schwarzenegger has denied
all three clemency requests he's received from death row inmates.
Allen would be the 13th inmate executed since California restored the
death penalty in 1978. But given the demographics of the state's death
row, legal experts predict his argument to be spared might be replicated
in the coming years.
5 of the state's nearly 650 condemned killers are over 70 years old. There
are 34 who are 60 to 69, and 138 who are 50 to 59, according to state
Department of Corrections data. Death penalty appeals typically take 20
years in California.
The graying of death rows is also evident on a national level. From 1990
to 2000, nine inmates older than 60 were executed in the United States,
according to Death Penalty Information Center data. In just the past 5
years, 18 over-60 inmates have been executed, including 77-year-old
Mississippi hit man John Nixon Sr. several weeks ago.
Nevertheless, experts say arguments like Allen's -- that he is too old and
sick to be executed -- are a long shot, particularly when governors have
been reluctant to grant clemency to death row inmates for reasons other
than possible innocence.
"I'd be stunned," said Austin Sarat, an Amherst College of the Law
professor and author of a recent book on clemency in death penalty cases.
"I can't see governors saying people are too old to be executed."
In papers filed with Schwarzenegger, Allen's lawyers say he isn't just
old. He is still recuperating from a major heart attack in September that
they maintain requires surgery. Diabetes has damaged other organs and left
him legally blind and confined to a wheelchair. His lawyers also argue
that San Quentin's inadequate medical care, the subject of a federal
lawsuit, has contributed to his condition.
Allen has received support from former San Quentin warden Daniel Vasquez,
who visited the inmate several weeks ago and told Schwarzenegger in a
letter that executing him would be "shameful." Former California Supreme
Court Justice Joseph Grodin, who wrote a 1986 ruling upholding Allen's
death sentence, also urged the governor to grant clemency, saying the
execution would "violate societal standards of decency."
These arguments gall death penalty supporters, who say Allen's age and
medical condition are merely a byproduct of delays in the system that have
allowed him to live so long.
Allen was sentenced to die in 1982. He was already in Folsom prison for
murder when he arranged the killings of witnesses who'd helped put him
behind bars. His 1st murder conviction had been for ordering the murder of
17-year-old Mary Sue Kitts, who'd revealed his role in a Fresno burglary.
While at Folsom, Allen recruited fellow inmate Billy Ray Hamilton to carry
out the murders. On Sept. 5, 1980, Hamilton, just released from prison,
went to Fran's Market in Fresno in search of one of the witnesses against
Allen, Schletewitz, 27, whose father owned the store. He killed him with a
shotgun, along with two bystanders, Douglas White, 18, and Josephine
When Hamilton was arrested, Allen was quickly linked to the scheme.
Hamilton also is on death row for the killings.
Despite expressing concern that Allen's lawyer provided poor
representation, the courts have repeatedly rejected his appeals. Last
year, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in affirming the death
sentence, remarked: "If the death penalty is to serve any purpose at all,
it is to prevent the very sort of murderous conduct for which Allen was
When Allen was sentenced to death, he was 52. Deputy Attorney General Ward
Campbell, who prosecuted the case two decades ago, said last week that the
system would fail its mission to protect witnesses if Allen isn't executed
for his murder plots.
Meanwhile, Allen has outlived Schletewitz's parents, Fran, who died in
2002, and Ray, who died last year. The couple had hoped to see Allen
executed, and campaigned for years to speed up the state's death penalty
"Having this looming over you all these years, it's always a part of you,"
said Pendergrass, who is now 55 and visited her family's store last week
for the 1st time since her brother's murder. "He can still communicate,
and that's all he needed to do 25 years ago. He's still a danger as long
as he can communicate."
(source: Mercury News)
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