The San Joaquin County district attorney's office Monday strongly urged Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger not to grant clemency to convicted murderer Michael A. Morales, scheduled to be executed Feb. 21 at San Quentin State Prison.
Morales was sentenced to death in 1983 by Ventura County Superior Court Judge Charles R. McGrath after a jury unanimously recommended that the state take Morales' life for the brutal 1981 slaying of Terri Winchell, a 17-year-old Lodi high school student. The case was moved to Ventura because of heavy pretrial publicity.
"Morales deserves no mercy, nor sympathy, nor clemency," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Charles Schultz in papers submitted to the governor. "The evidence that he tortured, raped and murdered Terri Winchell is overwhelming. The evidence of remorse is weak and unconvincing. And at least one significant part of his request for clemency is based upon a fictional declaration."
Schultz wrote that Morales submitted "a false account" of the killing in support of his clemency plea, stating that he had committed the crime in a drug- and alcohol-induced haze at the request of his cousin, Rick Ortega, who was angry at Winchell because she had become the lover of a man with whom he had had a homosexual relationship.
In reality, according to Schultz, when Ortega told his cousin about the situation, Morales conspired with Ortega to kill Winchell as "payback" for calling Ortega "gay," and Morales devised the plan.
Morales suggested that the three drive to a deserted area near Lodi where the crime would occur.
"After giving Ortega a prearranged signal, Morales attacked [Winchell] from behind, attempting to strangle her with his belt.... When his attempts to kill Terri with the belt failed, Morales took out [a hammer] and savagely beat her all about the head with it," according to Schultz.
Evidence submitted at trial showed that Winchell had 23 wounds on her head.
Morales dragged Winchell from the car and raped her after she was dead, according to trial testimony. Finally, after walking away, Morales returned and stabbed Winchell to make sure she was dead, according to trial testimony cited by Schultz.
The prosecutor said the facts of the crime, along with other alleged misstatements in Morales' clemency petition, cast doubt on "the sincerity of Morales' claim of remorse, negate his alleged acceptance of 'full responsibility,' and demonstrate that nothing submitted in support of his clemency plea can be trusted."
In January, Morales' bid for clemency got what appeared to be a boost when McGrath, the trial judge, sent a letter to Schwarzenegger urging that he commute Morales' sentence to life without parole. In a highly unusual move, the judge said he believed that the death sentence was based on false testimony from a jailhouse informant.
Bruce Samuelson had testified that Morales boasted during a jailhouse conversation that he had planned to rape and kill Winchell. The confession supposedly took place in Spanish. But the judge said he learned years later that Morales did not speak Spanish.
McGrath said the false testimony persuaded the jury that the crime was egregious and effectively negated Morales' claim that he felt deep remorse. Under the circumstances, executing Morales, now 46, would be "a grievous and freakish injustice," McGrath wrote.
The judge said that, if he had learned of Samuelson's falsehoods at the time, he "would not have let the death sentence stand."
Morales' attorneys, David Senior and Kenneth W. Starr -- dean of Pepperdine Law School and a former federal appeals court judge -- have until 5 p.m. today to file a response.
Margita Thompson, the governor's spokeswoman, said Schwarzenegger would thoroughly review the matter in consultation with his legal affairs secretary, Andrea Lynn Hoch, after all the papers have been submitted.