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ORANGE COUNTY COMMENTARY

Overturned Death Penalty Angers Juror

A religious conversion didn't change the fact that [William Payton] committed the murder.

September 15, 2002|LORRAINE RHOADS

Why do we have juries? We have them to hear evidence presented by prosecutors and defense lawyers. Our justice system guarantees that a person charged with a crime, no matter how heinous, is entitled to a trial that is heard by a jury of his or her peers.

I was a juror on the William Payton trial ("Death Penalty Is Overturned in 1980 Murder," Aug. 2). This trial came during Thanksgiving-Christmas 1982. I was working as an administrative secretary at a hospital. Another juror was an executive at a bank. The jury was composed of 12 intelligent people who heard the evidence, weighed it and came to a just verdict. Payton was privileged to sit in during juror interviews and the final selection of the jury of 12. He had a right to object to any of us serving.

I am now more than irate that Payton's death penalty has been overturned. It has been 20 years--22 since the murder--since we found him guilty of the heinous murder and rape of Pamela Montgomery.

A religious conversion didn't change the fact that he committed the murder. Federal public defender Dean R. Gits argued that his client's constitutional rights were violated because the jury was told not to consider the fact that he had been "born again."

What about the rights and life of Montgomery when Payton came after her with a knife to rape her and stab her a dozen times?

Despite the prosecutor's comment that we shouldn't discuss the religions conversion, we jurors did discuss it. We felt that, coming two years after the murder, the conversion made no difference.

Payton had fled to another state after the murder and returned after a year of "meditation." Fortunately, he was arrested when he returned. And he since has had 20 years to meditate.

We listened to the testimony of all the witnesses, including that of a jail inmate and a guard who both attested to the good Payton had been doing while in jail.

I am appalled at the ruling by U.S. District Judge Manuel Real in Los Angeles, and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals' decision. None of these judges was on that jury. They didn't hear that Payton had attacked another woman in a similar manner. They didn't see the damage done to the face of the woman he attempted to knife after he had killed Montgomery. And they didn't see the gruesome pictures of the murdered girl that we, the jury, had to view.

They just came to the conclusion that the religious conversion should have been considered and somehow absolved him from paying with his life.

I do hope that Dane Gillette, who heads the California attorney general's death penalty unit, asks the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse this decision and reinstate this death penalty verdict.

William Payton deserves to die, born again or not. Pamela Montgomery didn't have a chance to be born again. And Payton now has had 20 more years of life than she had.

We need the courts to stop letting murderers and rapists off. The jury I served on heard the evidence and came to a verdict based on the evidence. Since then, we've seen appeal after appeal and the overturning of a just verdict based on a flimsy excuse.

We have the death penalty in this state. Enforce it and maybe we'll have fewer murders of young women and men as we have been hearing about the last few months. Judges should give jurors the courtesy of believing that we consider all of the evidence and reach just verdicts.

*

Lorraine Rhoads lives in Huntington Beach.

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