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November 21, 2005

More evidence an innocent man was executed?

Following up its Sunday front-page story suggesting Ruben Cantu was executed in 1993 for a murder he did not commit (noted here), the Houston Chronicle today continues in this article to call the Cantu case one about "death and doubt."  Notably, the AP has picked up this story (as shown in this cnn.com coverage), as has Dan Markel at PrawfsBlawg.

I think that the story of an innocent man being executed, if it gains additional traction in the mainstream media, could have a major impact on an already dynamic national death penalty debate.  As detailed in recent posts linked below, there are many signs that the American death penalty culture is in the midst of a significant transformation.  Clear evidence that Texas has executed an innocent man could further speed up that transformation.

November 21, 2005 at 10:34 AM | Permalink

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Here is a story about a different type of death penalty case with a sentencing angle all of its own. The only mitake, technically, is that Allen was serving a straight life sentence not LWOP when he plotted the murders:

Sunday, November 20, 2005 (SF Chronicle)
Knock, knock, knocking on hell's door
Debra J. Saunders


CLARENCE RAY Allen provides the strongest argument I've seen for the death
penalty. Allen is slated to be executed on Jan. 17. He ordered the death
of several witnesses who had testified against him from prison while he
was serving a sentence of life without parole for the murder of another
witness. As a result, three innocent people are dead. They've been dead
for 25 years.
"This is probably the paradigm of a death-penalty case, in which really no
lesser punishment would be appropriate," noted state Deputy Attorney
General Ward Campbell last week.
The ugly saga starts in 1974. Allen owned a security company. According to
court documents, he enlisted the help of his son Roger and two employees
to rob Fran's Market, a store east of Fresno owned by the Schletewitz
family, whom Allen had known for years.
Roger Allen invited the Schletewitz son, Bryon, to a party. While Bryon
was swimming, someone took his keys. The Allen gang then robbed the store.
Later, Roger's 17-year-old girlfriend, Mary Sue Kitts, confessed to Bryon
that she helped cash money orders stolen from the market. Bryon confronted
Roger Allen, and also confirmed that Kitts had told him what happened.
Clarence Ray Allen then ordered that Kitts be murdered. Between
threatening phone calls from Allen, an accomplice strangled the poor girl.
When Bryon learned Kitts was missing, he went to authorities.
After a 1977 trial, a jury convicted Clarence Ray Allen of burglary,
conspiracy and first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life without
parole.
In Folsom State Prison, Allen cooked up a scheme to kill the witnesses who
testified against him so that he could appeal his conviction, and then be
freed because any witnesses were dead -- or scared into silence. After
Allen's buddy, Billy Ray Hamilton, was paroled, Allen's other son supplied
Hamilton with guns and ammo.
Accompanied by a girlfriend, Hamilton visited Fran's Market, brandished a
sawed-off shotgun and led Bryon and other employees into the stockroom as
he searched for a safe. As the Fresno Bee reported, Hamilton shot Bryon to
death. He killed Douglas White, 18. Then he shot a crying Josephine Rocha,
17, through the heart, lung and stomach.
"When you hear the details, it's hard," Teresa Daniele, Rocha's big
sister, told me over the phone. Some 25 years later, "it's still very
raw."
Hamilton also shot a 17-year-old clerk, who was left for dead but
miraculously survived, and a neighbor who heard the shotgun blasts and
went to investigate. Hamilton shot the neighbor, who then shot Hamilton.
Days later, a wounded Hamilton was arrested while robbing a liquor store.
Police found a list of names and information on eight people who had
testified against Allen, including Bryon Schletewitz and his father, Ray
Schletewitz.
In 1982, a jury convicted Allen and sentenced him to Death Row. (A jury
also sent Hamilton to Death Row.) The evidence had been overwhelming. As
U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw wrote in a three-judge
Ninth Circuit court decision that rejected Allen's appeal, the most
damning evidence "came directly from Allen." First, there was the list and
the fact that Allen's son helped Hamilton. Then there was the fact that
Allen had been vocal in letting people know he would kill any "rat."
As Wardlaw wrote: "By committing a capital crime while having already been
maximally punished and while behind walls thought to protect society,
Allen has proven that he is beyond redemption and that he will continue to
pose a threat to society."
And: Allen "has shown himself more than capable of arranging murders from
behind bars. 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 convicted."
While Allen showed no mercy for his victims, the system has been quite
kind to Allen. Three execution dates were set -- then stayed. In
September, Allen had a heart attack, then angioplasty. With his execution
looming, he may yet have open-heart surgery.
Now, his attorney, Michael Satris, is using Allen's old age -- which his
victims failed to attain -- and poor health as a reason to put off the
execution. I kid you not. Satris argued: "Allen's health is too fragile
for the setting of an execution date at this time because of the risk that
the setting of a date and the procedures that will attend such will cause
him to have a heart attack."
Meanwhile, the families of his victims are dying off. Allen has outlived
Josephine's father, Joseph Rocha, and Douglas White's brother, George. I'm
told that the Kitt parents are dead. Bryon's mother, Fran, died in 2002.
His father wanted to witness Allen's execution, but died in March. Bryon's
sister is the only surviving member of the family. She wants to see
justice done.
If Allen is executed as scheduled, the sister, Patricia Pendergrass, told
me, "there finally will be truth in sentencing even though so many years
have passed." She thinks of the "very vicious, cruel death" forced upon
Bryon and Josephine and Douglas, and sees Allen's execution as infinitely
kinder.
If the state can't execute a man who has killed innocent people from
prison while serving a life sentence without parole for murder, then no
one is safe.
Except Clarence Ray Allen.

E-mail: dsaunders@sfchronicle.com. ----------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright 2005 SF Chronicle


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