Families of local murder victims mixed on death penalty moratorium

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For 23 years, Marc Klaas has believed he would one day observe the ultimate justice enacted against Richard Allen Davis, a stranger who abducted his 12-year-old daughter, Polly Klaas, from her Petaluma bedroom, strangled her and left her body in a thicket covered with scrap wood.

An advocate for children’s safety since his daughter’s 1993 death, Klaas was meeting with Gov. Gavin Newsom in Sacrament on noon Tuesday to advocate for greater victim involvement in the criminal justice process when the governor told him directly he would be halting executions in California.

“I died a little bit in that room when he said that,” said Klaas, 69, of Sausalito. “I had every expectation when I walked out of the courtroom back in 1996 that at some point that penalty would be imposed on Richard Allen Davis, that he would be executed.”

Davis, 64, is among the most notorious inmates sentenced to death in California. He is among 737 other condemned inmates in California, where the men are housed on death row at San Quentin State Prison and women at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla. Newsom’s executive order temporarily halts executions, a moratorium that extends while he is governor, but does not alter death sentences.

Newsom’s order has reignited a push in California to put an end to executions. On Wednesday, Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, introduced a constitutional amendment that would abolish the death penalty in California, joining 19 other states that have banned capital punishmentalready done so. If approved by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, it would thrust the issue before voters in 2020 for the third time in eight years.

“California’s death penalty is a failed relic of a failed criminal justice system,” Levine said in a statement. “The death penalty does not deter serious crime, has been overly applied to minorities and has proven to be an expensive and flawed exercise in justice.”

California voters supported capital punishment in 2012 and 2016, when they voted to speed up executions by shortening appeals. But that support is much thinner in Sonoma County, where 55  percent of voters backed a 2016 measure that would have repealed the death penalty and replaced it with life in prison without possibility of parole.

State Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, expressed support for Newsom’s plan.

“There is absolutely no evidence that the death penalty makes Californians safer, and it is both incredibly costly and burdensome,” McGuire said in a statement.

Newsom’s decision drew mixed reaction Wednesday from families of murder victims.

At 86 years old, Ron Moreland of Cotati still hopes he will outlive the man who killed his daughter.

David Joseph Carpenter earned the moniker “The Trailside Killer” for the brutal slayings of at least six people nearly four decades ago on hiking trails in pristine places like Mount Tamalpais and Point Reyes National Seashore.

Moreland’s daughter, Cynthia Moreland, 18, was on a TThanksgiving weekend hike in 1980 with her fiance, E. Rick Stowers, 19, who was stationed at the Two Rock Coast Guard training base near Petaluma, when they were killed by Carpenter on a trail at the Point Reyes park. She was a cheerleader, a Rancho Cotate High School graduate just setting out in life.

Moreland said he’s concerned about biases within the criminal justice system that have led to wrongful convictions and put innocent people on death row. He believes those issues must be corrected.

“In David Carpenter’s case, there’s no ambiguity at all: He should have died long ago,” said Moreland, who taught electronics at Santa Rosa Junior College after retiring from the Air Force. “It’s just ridiculous how the state of California can keep alive an individual like that who is absolutely evil and has caused so much pain.”

Carpenter was convicted at age 58. He is now 88  years old.

Moreland said he likely wouldn’t attend Carpenter’s execution, but he believes the man should die.

“Even though it’s been nearly 40 years, it’s still a raw sore,” Moreland said of his daughter’s death. “The scab comes off sometimes and it hits just like it’s yesterday.”

California has not executed a condemned inmate since 2006. Critics of the death penalty say it has become an overly expensive ordeal that drags on for decades with legal appeals, making remote the chance victims might see swift justice.

Those factors have led Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch to change her thinking when it comes to the death penalty, which she no longer supports. Ravitch said she does not believe the death penalty is an effective deterrent particularly because of the length of time — often decades — that separates the death sentence from the governor’s Warrant of Execution.

“I have also spoken with many survivors; some who don’t want to wait for the appeals process to know the outcome for the killer and find closure knowing the final sentence is life without parole,” Ravitch said.

Ravitch said she’s also been swayed by new evidence, especially through DNA analysis, that has revealed problems with cases and led to exonerations across the state.

Still, Ravitch said she takes into consideration the wishes of surviving family members when it comes to deciding whether to seek the death penalty. Sonoma County prosecutors have not pursued death in eligible cases since Ravitch took office in 2011.

But prosecutors are still evaluating whether to pursue death sentences in two current cases.

Shaun Gallon, 40, of Forestville was charged with the 2004 killings of a Midwestern couple — Lindsay Cutshall, 22, and her fiance, Jason Allen, 26 — on a Sonoma Coast beach and the 2017 killing of his brother, Shamus Gallon, 36, of Forestville.

Maria Teresa Lebron, 31, and Robert Lee Randolph, 30, have been charged with killing two men — Nathan Proto, 36, of Sebastopol and John Jess Mariana, 28, of Guerneville — and trying to kill an unidentified woman during a botched marijuana sale outside Sebastopol in 2016.

“Notwithstanding my personal position, the law is the law and if appropriate, a death sentence will be sought,” Ravitch said.

Toni MacDonald, 74, of Santa Rosa said she takes an unusual position on the death penalty among victims, particularly family members of law enforcement officers killed while on duty. She’s against it.

Her son, James “Jimmy Mac” MacDonald, a Santa Rosa native and former Piner High School quarterback, was a 24-year-old reserve officer with the Compton Police Department when he was killed.

An alleged gang member from San Pedro, Regis Deon Thomas, was convicted of shooting to death MacDonald and his partner when the officers pulled him over in 1993.

“Killing the murderer of my son is not going to bring my son back,” MacDonald said. “I want Regis Thomas to sit in his little cell on death row until he’s a really, really old man. I even sent him a Christmas card and told him that.”

In two weeks, Sonoma County law enforcement will gather with the family of Deputy Frank Trejo to commemorate his life at the memorial site where he died at the Highway 12 and Llano Road.

Trejo, 58, was on patrol on the night of March 29, 1995, when he pulled into the parking lot to check out a suspicious car. Newly paroled convict Robert Scully got out of the truck and shot Trejo at close range.

Barbara Trejo, 78, of Santa Rosa said the execution of her husband’s killer would bring her a sense of justice for all that her family has lost. Only three of their 11 grandchildren had the chance to meet their grandfather, who was just one year away from retiring.

“I’d be the first one in the line to watch it (the execution),” Trejo said. “I told him (Scully) at the trial, I wanted him to see my face first thing he wakes up and the last when he goes to bed. He didn’t have to take Frank’s life. That was uncalled for. Frank didn’t have to die.”

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