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Gov. Denies Clemency for Allen

Fresno man, 75, is to die Tuesday for the contract murders of three people. Schwarzenegger says the inmate's infirmities and age are not relevant.

January 14, 2006|Henry Weinstein | Times Staff Writer

Condemned killer Clarence Ray Allen was denied clemency Friday by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said the 75-year-old murderer's life should not be spared just because he is old and in ill health.

Although Allen still has an appeal pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, Schwarzenegger's decision increases the likelihood that Allen, who will turn 76 on Monday, will be executed Tuesday at San Quentin State Prison. He would be the oldest person executed in the state since California reinstated the death penalty in 1977.

Allen was sentenced to death in 1982 for orchestrating a triple murder while he was in Folsom State Prison serving a life term for an earlier murder. He was attempting to eliminate witnesses who might testify against him if he won a new trial after appealing the first murder conviction.

"My respect for the rule of law and review of the facts in this case lead to my decision to deny clemency," the governor said in a prepared statement. "While serving a life sentence for murder, Allen executed a plan to silence witnesses. Allen's crimes are the most dangerous sort because they attack the justice system itself. The passage of time does not excuse Allen from the jury's punishment."

Schwarzenegger gave short shrift to the contention of Allen's attorneys that it would be "uncivilized" to execute someone so old and in such poor health. Allen had a heart attack in September, is legally blind, suffers from diabetes and uses a wheelchair.

"Allen's death sentence will be carried out at the age of 76, in part, because he committed these crimes when he was 50," the governor said. "His conduct did not result from youth or inexperience, but instead resulted from the hardened and calculated decisions of a mature man.... The depravity of Allen's crimes has not diminished with the years."

Allen's attorneys also asserted that he deserved mercy because his ailments had been "compounded by, or in some instances precipitated by, the shockingly substandard medical care system at San Quentin." The clemency petition asserts that "San Quentin's indifferent treatment" of his medical problems "have accelerated his debilitation."

Last year, in a separate case that is still pending, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson in San Francisco found that "even the most simple and basic elements of a minimally adequate medical care system were obviously lacking" at San Quentin.

Schwarzenegger, in spurning Allen's plea, said the inmate did not "complain that he was singled out for poor treatment, but instead asserts that San Quentin provides poor treatment to all inmates. Problems and improvements in the correctional system are best addressed on a systemwide basis, not by clemency cases where the focus is on the unique situation of an individual inmate.

"In fact, the living conditions at San Quentin and the quality of healthcare provided to California inmates continue to be the subject of class-action litigation and remedial plans."

San Francisco attorney Annette P. Carnegie, one of Allen's appellate lawyers, said she was "deeply disappointed" with the governor's decision and took sharp exception to Schwarzenegger's characterization of Allen's medical complaints.

"Mr. Allen does not, as the governor's decision contends, complain about generalized substandard medical care," Carnegie said. "Rather, he has pointed to specific incidents, such as the arbitrary discontinuance of necessary heart medicine right before he suffered a massive heart attack this past September.

"However, the governor has chosen not to give any consideration to the devastating impact that these unacceptable conditions have had on Mr. Allen, or to the reality of wheeling this elderly and infirm man who cannot walk or see into the death chamber to die by lethal injection."

But Deputy Atty. Gen. Ward Campbell, one of the lawyers who prosecuted Allen on the triple murder and who has successfully defended the verdicts on appeal, said Schwarzenegger made the right decision.

"Death is the only appropriate punishment for Clarence Ray Allen -- a life prisoner who murdered three innocent people and conspired to murder seven people as part of an attack on the criminal justice system," Campbell said.

The governor's decision comes on the heels of several setbacks for Allen to get his execution delayed or barred.

In recent weeks, the California Supreme Court and two federal district court judges rejected requests for a stay of execution. Earlier this week, U.S. District Judge Frank Damrell in Fresno rejected the claim of Allen's attorneys that executing such an elderly and infirm individual would violate the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Allen's attorneys have appealed that decision to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and they have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the California Supreme Court's denial of a stay.

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