SACRAMENTO — Furious that her 19-year-old daughter was poaching on her boyfriend, the woman put the teen-ager in the trunk of a car, drove to a desert mine shaft, let the girl say goodby to her baby and killed her with a shotgun.
The cold-hearted murder was one of the easier cases to decide. Brenda Aris' case, not as extreme or clear-cut, was more difficult.
Aris killed her husband, who announced one August night after 10 years of vicious beatings that he didn't think he would let her live until morning. When she went next door for ice for her swollen face, Aris found a neighbor's gun.
She said she brought it back for protection, then shot her husband five times as he lay in bed, passed out from drugs and alcohol in a room with her two children. Even the dead man's sister testified that Aris did the right thing.
The two women, and 28 others behind bars, have been waiting for two years for Gov. Pete Wilson to decide their pleas for executive clemency based on claims that they committed their crimes at least in part because they were battered women--physically, mentally or sexually abused for years.
Aris and another inmate, an ailing 78-year-old Temple City woman who stabbed her husband as he was packing to leave her after 49 stormy years of marriage, are rated the likeliest candidates to be told today that their prison terms will be reduced by the governor but not suspended, The Times has learned.
It would mark only the second time on record that a California governor has commuted the term of a prisoner not on Death Row.
At least a dozen other women, including Brenda Clubine, the leader of the Frontera prison group called Convicted Women Against Abuse that launched the clemency drive, are among those likely to be turned down today as Wilson begins announcing his decisions.
Four of the 12 women killed their husbands. Two killed their children, two were convicted of sexually abusing children, and four killed or injured others. All have contended in sometimes wrenching detail that abuse by a parent, spouse or lover influenced their actions.
A new law empowers Wilson to recognize battered women's syndrome as one basis for considering clemency. But Wilson, reviewing each case on its own and refusing to consider them as a "class-action clemency" group, appears ready to exercise his authority cautiously within the new and highly emotional psycho-legal arena of battered women's syndrome.
"These women were battered by the very person they killed," said Barbara Zelkind, a Century City attorney who heads a pro bono lawyers' group representing some of the women, including Clubine. "The evidence of that wasn't presented (at their trials) or, if it was presented, it really wasn't taken into account in a legal sense. That's the basis of this whole movement."
The best-known cases in the group Wilson reviewed include those of:
* Aris, 33, the Riverside mother of two who killed her husband in 1986. Appellate judges found that the trial judge erred by allowing only limited testimony about battering, but the exclusion was not serious enough to overturn her conviction for second-degree murder. Still, the ruling made battered women's syndrome--in which some habitually abused women are driven to violence in fear of their lives--an accepted defense in California. The Legislature then wrote it into law.
"Brenda's case changed the law, yet she never got the benefit of it," said her attorney, Valerie Moseley. Fellow inmates, Moseley said, believe Aris deserves clemency more than anyone. Aris' husband's family has pleaded on her behalf. Some jurors said they might have decided differently had they known more about battered women's syndrome.
Prosecutor Dodie Harman has opposed clemency; Superior Court Judge Edward Webster says he has written the governor that "I don't have any strong feelings one way or the other. . . . The evidence at the trial established that Ms. Aris was an abused spouse. Her husband was portrayed as being a thoroughly obnoxious human being. However, he was shot five times as he was asleep."
* Frances Caccavale, the other woman who may get some form of clemency, is in failing health after half a dozen years behind bars for stabbing her husband to death. Testimony indicated that they may have abused each other. Wilson's decision in Caccavale's case is expected to be a simple gesture of mercy on the grounds that it serves no purpose for her to remain in prison.
* Clubine, 42, has been interviewed widely on spousal abuse. In her case, testimony and interviews have sometimes conflicted with the record, even on such matters as how long she was married to the man she killed in 1983. She is serving a sentence of 16 years to life.