[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----NEB., CALIF.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sun Nov 30 12:36:20 CST 2008
Bank killer's case to be argued in top Nebraska court
The ringleader of the Norfolk bank killers will ask the state's highest
court Tuesday to overturn his death sentence because Nebraska didn't have
a valid death penalty law at the time of the crime.
Parts of Jose Sandoval's argument mirror the case made earlier this year
by Jorge Galindo, an accomplice to the failed bank robbery that left 5
Sandoval, Galindo and Erick Vela were found guilty and sentenced to death.
The lookout, Gabriel Rodriguez, was given five consecutive life sentences.
In Nebraska, death penalty cases are automatically reviewed by the state
Supreme Court, and Sandoval's lengthy appeal raises a number of concerns.
But prosecutors argue that nothing in Sandoval's appeal should prevent his
Sandoval's attorneys argue on the day of the crime Sept. 26, 2002 the
state's method of sentencing killers to death was unconstitutional.
The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled 3 months earlier on June 24, 2002 that
a jury, not a judge, must weigh whether a killing merits a death sentence
or life in prison. In Nebraska, judges had handed down death sentences
since the 1970s.
The state Legislature changed the law before Sandoval was sentenced.
"The people of the State of Nebraska were on notice after the (Supreme
Court decision) that the death penalty in Nebraska was dead," according to
Sandoval's appeal. "It was only after the murders in Norfolk on September
26, 2002, that it needed to be given 'life.'"
The state said in its response brief that the new sentencing law "never
affected this penalty and therefore never changed the punishment for
murder in the first degree."
"Death has been the maximum penalty for murder in the first degree in
Nebraska since 1973," the state said.
Prosecutors said Sandoval personally killed three people, including a bank
customer, while his partners fanned out and killed two employees at the
bank about 90 miles northwest of Omaha. The botched heist was one of the
deadliest in U.S. history.
Killed were assistant bank manager Lola Elwood, customer Evonne Tuttle and
employees Jo Mausbach, Samuel Sun and Lisa Bryant.
The appeal criticizes Sandoval's trial counsel, who worked as a Madison
County public defender. The appeal argues Sandoval's trial lawyer was
incompetent and "having a personal war with the Madison County
Commissioners over funding."
The state said Sandoval's attorney wasn't incompetent and there was no
conflict of interest.
Also at issue is whether Sandoval took LSD the morning of the crime. He
told investigators he saw "black shadows" and a blue cartoon Smurf at the
bank, and that he "jumped a fence and shot the smurf in the stomach."
"The appellant did not remember shooting his gun, except at the smurf,"
according to his appeal. "He did not remember shooting at any people."
Sandoval, his defense argues, suffered a "substance-induced psychotic
The state counters that there was "no evidence of LSD use before the
robbery," and plenty of evidence that Sandoval planned the robbery for
Prosecutors said the robbery was Sandoval's idea, and when Galindo and
Vela appeared ready to back out, Sandoval "was mad because he did not want
come all this way only 'to chicken out.'"
"Sandoval testified that he convinced them to go ahead with the plan and
rob the bank," according to the state's brief.
Another section of the appeal is about the electric chair, arguing that
it's cruel and unusual punishment.
But the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled in February after the appeal was
filed that electrocution is cruel and unusual punishment.
Electrocution was the state's only means of execution, and already Vela,
who pleaded guilty to 5 counts of 1st-degree murder, has asked his
sentence be changed from death to life imprisonment, citing the state's
lack of a constitutional method of execution.
The state Supreme Court said repeatedly in its ruling that it did not
strike the death penalty just electrocution as the method.
Attorney General Jon Bruning is studying other possible methods of
execution, and the Legislature will probably decide next year whether to
change the method to lethal injection.
One of the aggravators the state sought was that Sandoval had a
"substantial prior history of serious assaultive or terrorizing criminal
Earlier this year, Sandoval pleaded guilty to murdering Travis Lundell and
Robert Pearson months before the bank slayings.
Lundell's murder was linked to Sandoval, Vela, Galindo and Rodriguez
during the U.S. Bank investigation. Lundell's body was found in a shallow
grave outside Norfolk in March 2003. He disappeared in August 2002, about
a month before the bank murders.
Sandoval contacted prosecutors about Pearson's murder last year and
eventually led officials to where Pearson was buried. Pearson disappeared
in January 2002.
Sandoval said in court that his conversion to Christianity compelled him
to come forward about Pearson's and Lundell's murders. Sandoval received 2
life sentences for those murders.
(source: Associated Press)
A quarter-century marriage to a man behind bars----A thoughtful,
successful Omaha woman leads what seems a normal life. But long ago she
forged a lasting bond in California with a man from a different universe:
the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang.
The summer after her 1st year of law school, Pamela Dowden dug a red
calico sundress out of her closet and left her apartment in Sacramento. It
was a hot, shadeless morning. She drove her orange Datsun pickup out of
town as Phoebe Snow sang a wistful version of "Don't Let Me Down" on the
She threaded through hills of dry grass and oaks, pulling up to the gray
battlements of Folsom State Prison. A guard escorted her through the east
Pam looked at the 30-foot-tall granite walls, the iron-strap gates, the
gothic watchtower looming like some storybook witch.
She smiled when she saw Robert in the visiting yard.M
"Hi, Bait," he said, wrapping his powerful arms around her.
"Bait" was short for "dragon bait," which is a princess. It came from
their favorite Tom Robbins novel, "Still Life With Woodpecker," about a
love affair between a liberal princess and an outlaw.
Robert "Blinky" Griffin wore jeans and his prison-issue blue shirt. At 36,
he had one of the fiercest reputations in the California prison system.
Wide shoulders, hard low brow, walrus mustache, tattoos hemorrhaging down
At 34, Pam was slight and fair with reddish brown hair and hazel eyes. In
Robert's arms, she looked like a porcelain figurine. Yet more than
anywhere else, she felt safe there.
"You really wanna do this?" he asked.
"Yes," she said.
They stepped into the visiting yard before the siren was tested at noon.
Robert's friends gathered around. The best man was Kirk "Spanky" Smyth,
who had recently been caught passing through the metal detectors with Buck
knives in his rectum. Today he was loaded on smack and rubbing his face
Pam invited no one. This was her second marriage, and the circumstances
that brought her to it required too much explaining. She did not want
anyone to question her judgment -- or sanity. She did not tell her parents
in Kansas, her 2 brothers or any friends. This was where the secret half
of her life would begin.
"We are gathered here in the presence of witnesses for the purpose of
uniting in marriage Robert Lee Griffin and Pamela Dowden," began a prison
counselor named Denny Wipf.
>From Tower 10, a guard looked on with a .30-caliber rifle, capable of a
"I remind you both to remember that love, loyalty and understanding are
the foundations of a happy and enduring home. No other human ties are more
tender and no other vows more important than those that you now assume."
This summer day in July 1984, Pam could not imagine what those vows would
She would become a partner at a respected law firm in the Midwest, then
senior regulatory counsel for First Data Corp., the world's largest
processor of financial transactions.
He would be identified as a leader of one of the nation's most violent
prison gangs, the Aryan Brotherhood. Prosecutors would say he earned the
name "Blinky" because he could order an inmate's death with the blink of
She would buy a home on a street shaded by ash trees in a suburb of Omaha.
He would spend 12 years in a windowless, 8-by-12-foot cell in California's
harshest prison, Pelican Bay.
She would take yoga classes, attend the opera and travel with friends to
the Galapagos, Palau, Peru and Alaska.
He would be transported to a Los Angeles courtroom with a steel box over
his handcuffs and a hood over his head -- to be tried in one of the
largest death-penalty cases in U.S. history.
In a physical exile, they would share the closest of bonds. Their
correspondence would fill boxes, and they would chat on a prison phone
through bulletproof glass for hours at a time.
She would not only stand by Robert, she would embark on a two-decade legal
quest to get him out.
"If you both keep these vows, your home will be happy and full of joy,"
Wipf said that day in the prison yard.
Robert put a gold band on her finger. A friend in the prison crafts shop
had made it, inscribing runic symbols for "DM" and "DB," Dragon Man and
"With this ring, I thee wed," Robert said.
There was a kiss, but no dancing or cake. For her wedding night, she drove
back down U.S. 50 to her apartment, made dinner and went to bed alone.
Pam came from a tight-knit Methodist family in Shawnee, Kan. Her father,
Skip, was a heavy-equipment operator with a quirky independent streak Pam
As a child, she got good grades and blended in. She loved to play the
piano and read. But her inward, watchful way guarded an adventurous soul.
When Pam followed a boyfriend to Kansas State in 1968, she sparked at the
flux of ideas and unconventional personalities.
She was drawn to people who were different. She loved to debate a wannabe
Black Panther in her dorm just to hear his ideas. But her interest in
classes was haphazard, and she dropped out after her second year. She took
a job at a bar and wondered where circumstances would take her next.
One night at the bar, she met Gerry Griffin, a soldier from nearby Ft.
Riley just back from Vietnam. She wore no shoes on their first date, then
beat him at a game of pool. He was irked, but asked her out again. Soon he
asked if she wanted to move to California. She said sure.
They moved into a duplex in Laguna Beach, and Pam took a job cleaning
rooms at the Saddleback Inn. Gerry's family lived in a ranch home in
Anaheim, and Pam's buoyant presence was warmly welcomed into it.
His father, Tug, was a railroad engineer and union leader from East Texas.
He was clever, funny, bull-headed -- and kept in check by Gerry's equally
assertive mother, Donna.
Family get-togethers burst with fiddles and guitars, singing and plenty of
embellished stories. Pam played the piano.
In quieter moments, the family reminisced or complained about Gerry's
younger brother, who was in state prison for an armed robbery.
His name was Robert.
Pam had met Robert once when the family visited him at his high school
graduation in prison at Tracy, near Stockton.
Donna always said he was the most sensitive and considerate of her three
children. But outside the house, he was defiant and stirring a fury of
trouble. He started smoking weed and popping barbiturates at 12. He first
stuck his arm with a needle full of heroin at 14.
Arrests added up: narcotics, burglary, assault. In the 11th grade, he
punched a teacher and was sent to a boys detention camp in Trabuco Canyon.
When he got out and landed in more trouble, his probation officer gave him
a choice between jail and the Marines. Robert made it through basic
training, but was kicked out for twice going AWOL on drug jags.
By the late 1960s, he was robbing convenience stores to buy heroin. In
1969, he was caught for a $150 heist in Fullerton. He was convicted and
entered the state prison system March 20, 1970, on an indeterminate
sentence of 6 months to life. He was 21.
Inside, gangs such as the Black Guerrilla Family and Mexican Mafia ruled
the yards. White inmates were generally outnumbered. The tougher bikers
and street hoods banded together to meet violence with violence.
Robert was quickly identified as a "prime motivator" of a group of "Nazis"
and "outlaw bikers" who tried to set fire to fields at the state prison in
Soledad so they could kill a black guard or inmate during the disturbance.
The alleged plot failed, but he was transferred to a maximum-security wing
at the California Institution for Men in Chino.
There at Palm Hall, he came upon the most virulent whites in the system.
They called themselves the Aryan Brotherhood.
There were only a couple of dozen "made" members. But they reigned over
the white population, with many associates to do their bidding. Any member
who backed down or failed to carry out a hit could be marked for death,
"put in the hat."
They adopted a shamrock as their symbol, with a 6 on each leaf forming the
biblical mark of the beast. They would take the nickname the Brand, after
a gang of outlaws in Louis L'Amour's cowboy books.
They didn't ask Robert if he wanted to join. They congratulated him for
Robert became a made member in 1972. It was the most violent year ever in
the prison system, and the corrections department sent him to the crucible
of the madness, San Quentin.
4 guards had been slain there the year before. Now the "bulls" regularly
opened fire from the catwalks. Everyone lined up by race. Any who
intermingled risked an ugly death.
Robert marveled at the old fortress, festering in the wet wool fog off San
Francisco Bay. Concrete spalled off the crenelated walls. Robert unrolled
the mattress in his cell, and mice scattered everywhere.
For a criminal, this was the big time. Inmate trusties ran the joint,
hawking food, smokes, drugs, knives. For a price, they could hook you up
with electricity, furniture and hot water.
Robert's cell soon had stereo speakers, a bucket seat from a sports car
and a bed that hinged against the wall for more living space.
One day Robert ran into a childhood friend named John "Butch" Calfy. They
quickly reestablished their friendship.
Robert introduced him to the other guys in the Brand. "This dude is my
brother on the streets, and he is my brother in here," he said.
Calfy was accepted into the Brand.
Robert would be responsible if his protege didn't live up to the code.
In Southern California that year, Pam and Gerry got married and bought a
home in Mentone in the boulder-strewn foothills of the San Bernardino
Mountains. She was 23. She began taking classes at Cal State San
Bernardino to finish her sociology degree.
She took up the chore of writing Robert regular letters from the family.
Her first letters were filled with idle chat and family news. Soon she
found herself drawn to Robert in the way she was drawn to the wannabe
Black Panther in the dorms at Kansas State.
She found in Robert someone craving to express himself. Pam didn't realize
how much she needed to do the same.
In college, she developed a paralyzing fear of speaking before groups. She
wanted to chime in during class discussion, but as she opened her mouth,
adrenaline would overwhelm her.
She was too embarrassed to talk about the phobia. Gradually, she confided
He pointed out how much courage she had just to take the classes. And he
put her sense of shame into the broader perspective of human failure that
he was locked up in.
Their letters became a forum for each other's internal struggles.
Robert had started trying to educate himself and loved to discuss history
At times, his letters had a wistful, Holden Caulfield tone, as if he knew
he was narrating his own tragicomedy. Or they read like the pedantic
musings of a college freshman. Sometimes they had a jive rhythm. "Love ya
and Ride Easy," he signed off.
"The hanging room is dreary as hell," he wrote in 1974 about the old,
derelict gallows. His long looping strokes looked as if they were set to
paper with a quill. "It may sound morbid but that's become my room for
contemplating the universe. The 13 steps lead to it, and the fourteenth
gets you there. . . . Man, you don't know how good it is to be up here
where there's not another soul. . . . Peaceful it is Poppy!"
In another letter, Robert rhapsodized about the John Denver song "Rocky
Mountain High," and then a Wordsworth poem about nature's moral
superiority over man's intellect.
Wordsworth "felt with nature there was no need for books but in here I
live and see it through books. . . . To say you can't miss something
you've never had would be a lie. Even more so when it seems to be getting
further from reach with each day. I guess I'm feeling a might low girl but
sometimes I feel I died 5 years ago."
For Pam, there was an intimacy getting to know a person just through
writing. In this little abstract space they shared, there were no awkward
moments, no nattering to fill time.
Still, the repellent aspects of Robert's life barged in now and then. He
would let loose racist dogma. His early reading was heavy on the
philosophy of dominance, Nietzsche and Machiavelli and intellectualized
notions of white superiority and nativism.
Pam sent him a wider range of reading and debated him on it. And when she
didn't feel like combating him on a point, her silence let him know how
ridiculous he sounded.
She sent him feminist and mystical books: Simone de Beauvoir's "The Second
Sex," Carlos Castaneda's "Teachings of Don Juan" books, Maurice Bucke's
"Cosmic Consciousness," and later Marilyn French's "The Women's Room."
Robert read and discussed them, but any influence they had on his thinking
in those early days was subtle at best.
He flaunted his outlaw life, marring his skin with tattoos -- shamrocks,
666, AB. He led strikes. He sparked disputes with guards. He shot heroin,
smoked pot, drank pruno.
In October 1974, word reached him that his friend Calfy had backed down
during an attack, easing into his cell as black inmates swarmed an Aryan
brother named Buzzard Harris.
2 months later, Robert and a brother named Ronald Krueger followed Calfy
into his cell after a workout to confront him about the story. They sat on
Robert would later say he noticed that Calfy's bags were packed -- a sign
he was taking a dive, turning informant.
Calfy got up to grab some food.
Robert threw a headphone wire around his neck.
The 2 struggled on the floor. Robert ratcheted the garrote tighter. It
snapped, and Krueger started stabbing Calfy. They kicked Calfy in the face
until he passed out.
Another inmate walked in, grabbed one of Calfy's art pencils and drilled
it into his head.
When they were done, they threw him against the toilet. He didn't move.
Robert tore off his denim shirt to leave the evidence behind.<>P> When the
guards got to Calfy, they didn't see the most gruesome wound. In the
infirmary, they noticed the corner of his eye -- and the tip of the pink
Calfy was unconscious for t3 weeks.
When he woke up, he told investigators that he couldn't remember the
details of the assault but that it couldn't have gone down without
They asked if he was going to lie on the stand to protect his "brothers."
"If a man stabbed you in the back, knocked all of your eye out, and kicked
all of the taste buds out of your mouth, you goin' to stand there and lie
for him?" Calfy asked.
"Well, I don't know. Are you?" an investigator said.
Calfy testified against Robert and disappeared into protective custody.
At a pretrial hearing, a prosecutor asked Robert if he had ever heard of
the Aryan Brotherhood.
"Yes, I have heard it mentioned, yes," Robert said.
"You are not a member of that group, though?"
"No sir, I am not. . . . I do not think that organization actually exists,
except maybe on paper and in the minds of the prison administration."
Robert was convicted of assault on an inmate and sentenced to life, as was
"We'll win on appeal," Robert told his family in the visiting area.
They were devastated. He didn't have a shot at parole for 10 years now.
Gerry couldn't even speak on the ride home.
Pam was saddened about Robert, but didn't write him off. She saw him as
tragic -- adolescent, addicted to drugs and stuck in a place where
violence and survival were inseparable.
Part of him was trying to grow out of it. Another part was staying behind.
She tried to ignore this part. It was not her nature to probe or judge.
She was naive, still the flower child with long red pigtails, trusting
that a fundamental goodness would prevail.
She found herself acting as a mediator between Robert and his family, who
didn't buy the claims of innocence they'd heard for years now. She
defended him when they disparaged him. Yet she struggled with her own
"You see, Robby," she wrote, "I find myself defending you sometimes, when
people might get discouraged about you, and sometimes I get out-debated,
and it leaves me worrying a bit.
"I do trust you at what you say, and when somebody shoots holes at it, I'm
at a loss. You know, more than once, I've been told I'm a fish, gullible,
and easy to take advantage of, so maybe I'm a little too defensive that
way. In some cases, when I think I'm being conned maybe, I just let it
ride, sometimes it doesn't matter. But I value your friendship very
highly, Robby, I feel I have to bring any doubts out front, so I can
dispose of them, you know?"
Over time, Robert began to talk more freely about the pain he was causing
He thanked her for opening his eyes.
"You know the story of the mouse that took the thorn out of the lion's
foot and from then on them were 2 best friends in the jungle?" he wrote
her. "Well, that may be a piss poor way to put it but that's something in
the way it is."
Pam got her bachelor's degree and found a job as a secretary for a civil
engineering firm in San Bernardino -- typing plans and specs for sewage
treatment plant sludge scrapers. It was stultifying work.
Her personal life wasn't much more engaging. Gerry became a railroad
engineer like his dad, and was off on the tracks a lot. They lived out in
the scrub among chicken ranches and orange groves. When she and Gerry
talked, their words seemed to ricochet off each other.
She felt like she was living in a trance.
"Maybe it's just being alone so much," she wrote Robert. "I guess I've
never had so much of that before. I mean, I've always valued my privacy,
but I've always valued my associations with people too. . . . Anymore,
seems like when I want to be with a friend or friends, all I can do is sit
down and write a letter."
Robert was transferred to Palm Hall at Chino in 1979. Pam was happy to
visit him on weekends. She brought burritos -- it was all the guards would
allow -- and talked.
They discussed anything, in careening, free-rolling conversations. She
talked about going to law school. He encouraged her. Sometimes they sat on
the pavement and paged through a book together. She would leave the prison
feeling emotionally replenished.
This made it more frustrating when he'd fall back into his cowboy routine.
She winced at the self-mythology that he and his friends bolstered in each
other. They were gladiators in their own minds. She groaned inside when
they disparaged men outside prison as "not real men."
One day he showed up at the visiting yard, clearly high, jabbering prison
"Weep and wail" means jail. Twist and twirl means girl. Storm and strife
She cut the visit short. What was she doing anyway?
But he sensed her dismay and cut down on the bravado. In June 1981 he told
her he quit heroin. She could see the change in his behavior. She felt
like he did it for her.
Pam knew his going clean removed an obstacle in an intensifying
relationship she dared not categorize. His gaze made her stomach flutter.
One day, in a poem to herself, she wrote:
He converses as if driven
by some unquelled hunger,
Some hunger or hopeless passion,
Some inside wheel that must turn,
gears meshing with his deepest self.
As if driven in starvation to this morsel,
His words are ravenous,
His eyes ravenous;
Filling slowly to a calmness,
A floating, smiling calm.
She spent more and more time with him. Visiting days were like parties in
the park, with all his friends and their relatives, girlfriends, children
One day when she got back to Mentone, Pam learned that a dear friend from
college had killed herself. The 2 had stayed in touch, and each time they
saw each other it was as if they were back in the dorms together. Pam
found herself crying, day after day.
The death knocked her out of her trance. She looked at where she was. She
was sleepwalking through her job. Her marriage was inert.
In February 1983, Pam took the LSAT and told Gerry she wanted a divorce.
(source: Part 1 of 3 parts; Los Angeles Times)
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