SAN QUENTIN — Last-minute court appeals rejected and clemency vigorously denied by the governor, Donald Beardslee was executed early this morning, 24 years after he confessed to the slayings of two Bay Area women.
As about 300 opponents of the death penalty held a vigil outside the prison, Beardslee, 61, was strapped to a gurney and injected with a fatal cocktail of drugs.
In an extraordinarily detailed statement Tuesday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said: "Nothing in his petition or the record of his case convinces me that he did not understand the gravity of his actions or that these heinous murders were wrong."
Shortly after the governor's rejection, the U.S. Supreme Court without comment denied Beardslee's application for a stay. The decisions cleared the way for Beardslee's execution at 12:01 this morning, the state's 11th execution since voters reinstated the death penalty in 1978 and the first under the Schwarzenegger administration.
Beardslee refused a special final meal and had regular prison fare of chili macaroni, salad and cake.
Among those gathered to witness the execution on San Quentin's death row were four family members of Patty Geddling, 23, and Stacey Benjamin, 19, whom Beardslee admitted killing and dumping in secluded spots after a dispute over a $185 drug deal in Redwood City, Calif.
At a state clemency hearing in Sacramento on Friday, defense attorneys asked Schwarzenegger for mercy in the case, saying that Beardslee suffered from previously undetected brain damage that caused him to commit the two 1981 murders as well as the fatal stabbing of a Missouri woman in 1969 for which he served seven years in prison.
Hoping that Schwarzenegger would take a cue from the late Ronald Reagan, the last California governor to grant clemency to a condemned man, the attorneys asked that Beardslee be allowed to undergo a sophisticated magnetic resonance imaging brain scan not used during his trial. In a 1967 case, Reagan commuted the death sentence of a brain-damaged convicted killer because the latest scientific test, the 16-channel encephalograph, had not been available at the time of trial.
But Schwarzenegger rejected the brain damage theory, noting that Beardslee functions at a very high level, earning "A's, Bs and Cs when he attended the College of San Mateo while he was on parole for the Missouri murder."
After spending the weekend reviewing the case and the sealed recommendation of the state Board of Prison Terms, Schwarzenegger denied clemency for Beardslee, just as he did last year in the only other death case he has faced since taking office.
Last February, Schwarzenegger ignored appeals from a prominent chorus of American and international voices -- including some in the movie business -- and rejected clemency for escaped convict Kevin Cooper. Cooper was sentenced to death for the 1983 hacking deaths of three Chino Hills family members and a neighborhood friend during his flight from prison.
Cooper was later spared from execution by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which sent the case back to lower courts to consider new DNA tests.
Because of the relative leniency he has demonstrated in parole cases -- particularly compared with his Democratic predecessor Gray Davis -- Schwarzenegger's early dealings in capital cases are being watched closely by the state's prosecutors and defense lawyers.
In interviews, Schwarzenegger said he believes in the death penalty as "a necessary and effective deterrent to capital crimes." However, Legal Affairs Secretary Peter Siggins said in a February interview that the governor has indicated he would grant clemency if the right case came along.
"He's certainly indicated that in the right case he'd be willing to entertain" clemency, said Siggins, who added: "I can tell you the governor is a supporter of the death penalty and believes it's an appropriate form of punishment."
Since taking office in November 2003, Schwarzenegger has granted three pardons and issued the first commutation of a prison term by a California governor since Jerry Brown.
California leads the nation with 640 inmates on death row, but ranks 18th in executions performed since 1976. Texas ranks first in executions with 337, and second in inmates on death row, with 455 sentenced to death.
Because of the complicated appeals process, condemned California prisoners wait an average of more than 20 years between the date of sentencing and execution. In fact, most inmates on the state's death row die of natural causes. Next in line for execution after Beardslee is Blufford Hayes Jr., whose 1980 death sentence is under appeal.
In the nearly quarter-century that he waited in San Mateo County Jail and on San Quentin's death row, Beardslee is reported to have become a model prisoner. According to testimony read at Friday's clemency hearing, he even assisted corrections officials on prison security.