5 Cal­i­for­nia in­mates who were freed from death row

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Stay Connected - BY AN­DREW SHEELER [email protected]­bune­news.com An­drew Sheeler: 805-781-7934, @an­drew­sheeler

Gov. Gavin New­som’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der sus­pend­ing cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment cites the pos­si­bil­ity that an in­no­cent per­son could be sen­tenced to death as one rea­son to close the ex­e­cu­tion cham­ber at San Quentin State Prison.

Since 1978, when Cal­i­for­nia vot­ers re­in­stated the death penalty, at least five men on death row have been ex­on­er­ated, ac­cord­ing to the cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment tracker Death Penalty In­for­ma­tion Cen­ter.

New­som’s or­der also ar­gues the death penalty is ap­plied dis­pro­por­tion­ately to peo­ple of color. Three of the ex­on­er­ated Cal­i­for­ni­ans are black; one is Na­tive Amer­i­can and one is Latino, ac­cord­ing to data­bases that com­pile in­for­ma­tion on over­turned con­vic­tions.

Ernest “Shu­jaa” Gra­ham, con­victed in 1976 for the killing of a cor­rec­tional of­fi­cer, was ac­quit­ted in 1981 by the Supreme Court of Cal­i­for­nia af­ter spend­ing five years on death row, ac­cord­ing to Death Penalty In­for­ma­tion Cen­ter.

The court found that pros­e­cu­tors “im­prop­erly used their peremp­tory chal­lenges to ex­clude prospec­tive ju­rors who were black,” Death Penalty In­for­ma­tion Cen­ter re­ported.

He was re­leased from cus­tody af­ter an­other court found him not guilty.

In 2017, Gra­ham and his part­ner, anti-death penalty ac­tivist Phyl­lis Pren­tice, gave an in­ter­view to Al-Jazeera, where they dis­cussed find­ing love while Gra­ham was on death row.

“Cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment doesn’t solve a so­cial prob­lem, it doesn’t re­duce vi­o­lence, it’s no de­ter­rent to crime – it’s just re­tal­i­a­tion. It doesn’t work. And we have to keep ed­u­cat­ing peo­ple about this,” Gra­ham said in the in­ter­view.

Troy Lee Jones was con­victed in 1982 for the mur­der of Carolyn Grayson in Merced County. In 1996, the Supreme Court or­dered he re­ceive a re-trial be­cause he re­ceived an in­com­pe­tent de­fense from his at­tor­ney. The prose­cu­tion later dropped charges and Jones was set free, ac­cord­ing to Death Penalty In­for­ma­tion Cen­ter.

The next man to be ex­on­er­ated from Cal­i­for­nia’s death row was Os­car Lee Mor­ris in 2000. Mor­ris was sen­tenced to death in 1983 on charges of rob­bery and mur­der in Long Beach. The state’s chief wit­ness, Joe West, on his deathbed in 1997 said he had fab­ri­cated his tes­ti­mony against Mor­ris to gain le­niency in his own crim­i­nal cases, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Reg­istry of Ex­on­er­a­tions.

Pa­trick Croy spent seven years on death row un­til he was ac­quit­ted in 1990 for the mur­der of a Yreka po­lice of­fi­cer in 1978. He spent a to­tal of 19 years in prison in con­nec­tion to other al­leged of­fenses un­til a fed­eral judge va­cated all re­main­ing charges in 2005, Death Penalty Info re­ports.

The fi­nal Cal­i­for­nia death row ex­on­er­a­tion took place in 2018.

Vi­cente Be­na­vides Figueroa, was sen­tenced to death in 1993 on charges of rap­ing and mur­der­ing his girl­friend’s 21month-old daugh­ter.

Supreme Court Jus­tice Carol A. Cor­ri­gan wrote in the court’s opin­ion that “the ev­i­dence (against Figueroa) now shown to be false was ex­ten­sive, per­va­sive and im­pact­ful,” ac­cord­ing to The Los An­ge­les Times.

Doc­tors who pre­vi­ously tes­ti­fied that the 21month-old child’s in­juries could have been caused by rape said, af­ter a re­view of all of the med­i­cal records, that the child could not have been sex­u­ally as­saulted, ac­cord­ing to the Bak­ers­field Cal­i­for­nian.

In­stead, the news­pa­per re­ported, the girl suf­fered in­juries while she was in Figueroa’s care, but it was un­clear whether she was harmed in­ten­tion­ally.

“Some doc­tors said they weren’t pro­vided with all the med­i­cal ev­i­dence be­fore tes­ti­fy­ing,” the news­pa­per re­ported.

‘‘ CAP­I­TAL PUN­ISH­MENT DOESN’T SOLVE A SO­CIAL PROB­LEM, IT DOESN’T RE­DUCE VI­O­LENCE, IT’S NO DE­TER­RENT TO CRIME – IT’S JUST RE­TAL­I­A­TION. IT DOESN’T WORK. AND WE HAVE TO KEEP ED­U­CAT­ING PEO­PLE ABOUT THIS. Ernest “Shu­jaa” Gra­ham

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