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Clemency Hearing for Allen Denied

The governor gives no explanation for his action. The inmate, 75, arranged a triple slaying in 1980 while in prison for another murder.

January 05, 2006|Henry Weinstein | Times Staff Writer

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has decided he will not hold a private clemency hearing for condemned inmate Clarence Ray Allen, who is scheduled for execution Jan. 17 for commissioning the murders of three people while he was behind bars.

Schwarzenegger did not offer a reason for his rejection, which came in a one-sentence letter from his legal affairs secretary to lawyers over the New Year's holiday. If the execution goes forward, Allen, 75, will be the oldest person killed by the state of California in the modern history of the death penalty.

Last month, Mississippi executed John Nixon, 77, who became the oldest person put to death by a state since 1941.

Allen is legally blind, has heart ailments and diabetes and uses a wheelchair. Allen's attorneys said in clemency papers filed Dec. 13 that he had a near-fatal heart attack in September, had been denied surgery for his heart and vision problems and was incapable of helping them with their petition.

Schwarzenegger has rejected three previous clemency requests, including that of Stanley Tookie Williams, co-founder of the Crips, who was executed in December after a failed campaign arguing that he had redeemed himself with anti-gang work from death row.

Julie Soderlund, a spokeswoman for the governor, cautioned against drawing any conclusions from Schwarzenegger's rejection of a hearing for Allen, saying the governor would consider the written material submitted by lawyers on the clemency request. The California attorney general's office is opposing Allen's bid.

Deputy Atty. Gen. Ward Campbell agreed the move didn't necessarily telegraph Schwarzenegger's intentions.

"The governor may have learned what is useful to him and what is not" in considering the three prior clemency applications, Campbell said.

Michael Satris, a Bolinas, Calif., attorney who has represented Allen for a number of years, said the rejection "has increased our concerns about the fundamental unfairness of the whole clemency proceeding."

Late last year, Satris and attorneys from Morrison and Foerster, a large San Francisco-based law firm, unsuccessfully petitioned a federal district court judge in San Francisco to delay Allen's execution because of his health and what they said was poor treatment by prison officials.

The attorneys on Dec. 27 also filed a habeas corpus petition in the California Supreme Court, contending that it would violate the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment to execute someone so old and infirm.

"To wheel Mr. Allen, a blind, aged, crippled and enfeebled man, into the execution chamber at San Quentin to be put to death would be a bizarre spectacle that shocks the conscience and offends fundamental notions of human decency," Allen's attorneys wrote.

Former California Supreme Court Justice Joseph Grodin, who wrote the decision upholding Allen's death sentence nearly 20 years ago, wrote to Schwarzenegger in December saying he believed that Allen's execution would not "serve any legitimate societal interest in either retribution or deterrence."

But Campbell has argued that Allen's medical condition is irrelevant to the question of whether he deserves to die.

"Mr. Allen has shown that imprisonment is simply no guarantee of public security," Campbell wrote to the governor.

The habeas petition is still pending, and the governor could answer the clemency petition as late as hours or even minutes before the execution.

Allen was convicted in 1977 of arranging the 1974 murder of his son's girlfriend, Mary Sue Kitts, who was a potential witness against him in a market burglary case.

While serving a life sentence at Folsom State Prison for the contract killing, Allen offered another inmate, Billy Ray Hamilton, $25,000 to kill eight people who had testified against him in the Kitts case.

After his release from prison, Hamilton in 1980 killed one of the witnesses, Bryon Schletewitz, son of the store owner, and two young market employees, Josephine Rocha and Douglas White.

Governors have considerable discretion in clemency decisions. However, California law requires a governor to obtain the concurrence of four of the seven justices on the California Supreme Court to grant clemency to an individual convicted of two or more felonies.

The last California governor to grant clemency to a death row inmate was Ronald Reagan, who in 1967 commuted to life in prison the sentence of a brain-damaged inmate, Calvin Thomas.

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