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Prison Board Told Killer Is 'Worth Sparing'

Hearing: Lawyers appeal for clemency for Stephen Wayne Anderson, who is scheduled to be executed this month.

January 19, 2002|ERIC BAILEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — Sketching the portrait of a changed and remorseful man, attorneys for death row inmate Stephen Wayne Anderson pleaded for clemency Friday, while prosecutors urged the state Board of Prison Terms to press ahead with the execution this month.

Unless Gov. Gray Davis intervenes, Anderson, 48, is slated to die in San Quentin's death chamber Jan. 29 for the 1980 murder of Elizabeth Lyman, an 81-year-old former piano teacher, in San Bernardino.

The prison board will make a confidential recommendation to Davis, but Anderson's attorneys hold out little hope that the governor will veer from his standard practice of rejecting clemency appeals.

"This is, after all, an election year, and [Davis] has said if you kill someone, forget it. No mercy," Margo Rocconi, one of Anderson's lawyers, told the board during a two-hour hearing.

Anderson's life is "worth sparing," Rocconi said, because of the remorse he has expressed and the desire of several members of Lyman's family to see the death sentence commuted to life in prison.

Lance Lindsey, executive director of the national anti-execution group Death Penalty Focus, told the board it should brush aside political considerations because Anderson's record and the facts of the case make clemency "politically safe" for the governor. Calling it "not the most heinous case," Lindsey said the governor can "demonstrate he has compassion."

But a San Bernardino County prosecutor said that more than two decades of reflection on the facts of the murder by state and federal courts was sufficient, and that Anderson should die.

"Twenty-one years has been enough," said David Whitney, lead deputy prosecutor with the district attorney's major crimes unit. "It has been said that justice delayed is justice denied. In this case, it is time for justice."

Whitney also noted that ballistics tests concluded that Lyman had been shot at a distance of 8 to 20 inches, countering Anderson's contention that he reacted reflexively when the elderly woman appeared as he was burglarizing her house. He noted that Anderson watched television in Lyman's living room and even prepared macaroni in her home after the slaying.

"This was a cold, calculated murder," Whitney said. "And that's pretty heinous to me."

The hearing followed a decision Thursday by a federal judge in San Francisco to reject defense efforts to remove the governor from considering Anderson's clemency petition. Defense lawyers believe Davis has demonstrated a politically inspired bias against murderers. They have appealed the decision to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Anderson's attorneys said that he had poor defense representation during his trial, and that three jurors now believe he should not be executed.

Rocconi said Anderson's rocky youth in a family home that was "turbulent, abusive and loveless" contrasts sharply with his efforts to turn around his life in prison. Anderson has written hundreds of poems and a play that was produced in New York.

"Stephen Anderson is a different person than he was 21 years ago," Rocconi said. "Taking his life now makes little sense."

Sister Mary Christine McNamara, a Catholic nun who has visited Anderson on death row for 14 years, said the convicted murderer is working desperately now to finish a novel before his execution.

"Stephen bothers with it because he has chosen life," McNamara said, pleading with the board to demonstrate that "murder, whether in the death chamber or an impulsive act like Stephen's, is not the way to solve problems."

Whitney, the prosecutor, countered that he hoped the prison board would not "buy into this notion he's a changed man."

The prosecutor said Anderson had bragged he was a "born killer." If the convict had indeed changed, "then God bless him," Whitney said. "But it's not about what's good for him."

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