County of­fi­cials re­act to death penalty mora­to­rium

The Tribune (SLO) - - Front Page - BY MATT FOUN­TAIN AND NICK WIL­SON mfoun­[email protected]­bune­news.com nwil­[email protected]­bune­news.com

After Gov. Gavin New­som’s an­nounce­ment Wed­nes­day that he will not carry out ex­e­cu­tions of con­demned in­mates dur­ing his time in of­fice, San Luis Obispo County Dis­trict At­tor­ney Dan Dow said New­som is de­fy­ing the will of Cal­i­for­nia vot­ers and over­looks the vic­tims of the most heinous crimes.

The county cur­rently has three peo­ple con­victed lo­cally who are con­demned to die at San Quentin State Prison’s Death Row and two pend­ing mur­der cases in which the de­fen­dants are el­i­gi­ble for the death penalty.

On Wed­nes­day, Dow said his of­fice reached out to the fam­ily mem­bers of the vic­tims in the three cap­i­tal cases to of­fer their sup­port and get feed­back.

Though he said he un­der­stands con­cerns over cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment — is­sues of mo­ral­ity, in­ef­fi­ciency and cost — Dow said the death penalty has an im­por­tant role in the Amer­i­can crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem.

“I think the main rea­son for the death penalty is to pay a part of a huge debt that the per­son owes to the vic­tim and their fam­ily and so­ci­ety,” Dow said. “It’s the ul­ti­mate pun­ish­ment for the ul­ti­mate crime.”

‘WORST OF THE WORST’

Call­ing cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment “in­ef­fec­tive, ir­re­versible and im­moral,” New­som on Wed­nes­day signed an ex­ec­u­tive or­der grant­ing re­prieves to all 737 Cal­i­for­ni­ans await­ing ex­e­cu­tion — a quar­ter of the coun­try’s death row in­mates, ac­cord­ing to the Sacra­mento Bee.

While New­som’s or­der didn’t end the death penalty in Cal­i­for­nia, it means the state’s harsh­est crim­i­nal penalty won’t be en­forced for as long as he’s gov­er­nor.

After re­ceiv­ing word of the gov­er­nor’s an­nounce­ment Tues­day evening, Dow posted on Face­book that “Gov. New­som is uni­lat­er­ally re­fus­ing to en­force the will of the Peo­ple of Cal­i­for­nia,” and that the death penalty is “only re­served for the worst of the worst.”

With boxes of case files and ev­i­dence and large print­outs of vic­tims from the county’s three Death Row cases fill­ing his of­fice, Dow

ex­plained his po­si­tion that Cal­i­for­nia vot­ers as re­cently as 2016 turned down Prop. 62, which would have re­pealed the death penalty, 53 per­cent to 47 per­cent. San Luis Obispo County vot­ers re­jected the mea­sure by a 57-to-43-per­cent margin.

Con­versely, Dow said, vot­ers nar­rowly ap­proved Prop. 66, a mea­sure to stream­line the death penalty process, 51 to 49 per­cent, and San Luis Obispo County vot­ers solidly ap­proved it by 54 to 46 per­cent.

“Cal­i­for­ni­ans have said pretty con­sis­tently through­out the last 30, 40 years that they’re in fa­vor of the death penalty, so I be­lieve the gov­er­nor has an obli­ga­tion to carry it out,” Dow said. “Pri­mar­ily, I’m dis­heart­ened by his ac­tion be­cause vic­tims ap­pear to have been an af­ter­thought or not very high on the pri­or­ity list.”

PAST SLO COUNTY CASES

The state hasn’t car­ried out an ex­e­cu­tion in 13 years, and Death Row in­mates are far more likely to die of nat­u­ral causes than ex­e­cu­tion.

In De­cem­ber 2016, Den­nis Webb died of nat­u­ral causes at San Quentin at the age of 65. Webb had been on Death Row since Au­gust 1988, when he was sen­tenced to death by a San Luis Obispo County jury for the 1987 bur­glary and first­de­gree mur­ders of John Rain­wa­ter, 25, and Lori Rain­wa­ter, 22, of Atas­cadero, whose new­born and tod­dler were found alive at the mur­der scene.

With Webb’s death, there are now three for­mer San Luis Obispo County res­i­dents con­demned to die.

Richard Allen Ben­son was a 38-year-old parolee when he mo­lested, tor­tured, and killed Nipomo res­i­dent Laura Ca­margo and her three chil­dren: Ster­ling, 23 months; Shawna, 3; and Stephanie, 4; in Jan­uary 1986. Ben­son told a pro­ba­tion of­fi­cer dur­ing a jail­house in­ter­view in 1987, “I should die for what I did.”

Michael Whisen­hunt was con­victed in 1996 for tor­tur­ing and mur­der­ing his girl­friend’s baby.

Rex Krebs was con­victed in 2001 of sep­a­rately kid­nap­ping, tor­tur­ing, and killing 20-yearold col­lege stu­dents Aun­dria Craw­ford and Rachel Ne­w­house.

A MOTHER SPEAKS

Gail Craw­ford, mother of Aun­dria Craw­ford, said by phone Wed­nes­day that she wasn’t sur­prised by New­som’s an­nounce­ment, but she dis­agrees with the de­ci­sion.

Mon­day marked 20 years since the day of her daugh­ter’s ab­duc­tion.

“I think it’s an ap­pro­pri­ate pun­ish­ment,” Gail Craw­ford said. “I don’t have a choice as to what New­som does, but I feel like he’s one per­son who thinks he knows bet­ter than the en­tire state. I dis­agree with him.”

She said that even if Krebs isn’t ex­e­cuted, she wants him to live the rest of his life on Death Row and not in the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion.

She added that Krebs and oth­ers who might have had abu­sive child­hoods shouldn’t be treated too le­niently.

“They let Charles Man­son live his life in jail after all the heinous things he did, and he was mak­ing money off sell­ing Tshirts,” Craw­ford said. “All of these guys should have been put to death.”

As a pros­e­cu­tor, nowre­tired San Luis Obispo Su­pe­rior Court Judge John Trice put was re­spon­si­ble for se­cur­ing the death penalty for both Krebs and Webb.

Reached by phone Wed­nes­day, Trice called the gov­er­nor’s mora­to­rium on ex­e­cu­tions a “to­tally un­prece­dented, some­what stun­ning de­ci­sion.”

“It pretty much turns its back on the vot­ers in this state who voted on this twice, and ques­tions the va­lid­ity of the (de­ci­sions) of the ju­ries,” Trice said. “I’ve never seen any­thing quite like it.”

Trice said the mora­to­rium not only ap­plies to con­demned in­mates such as Krebs, but also to in­fa­mous se­rial killers such as Charles Ng and “Tool Box Killer” Lawrence Bit­taker.

Asked his thoughts on Webb’s nat­u­ral causes death and the length of time it takes for cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment to be car­ried out, Trice said it’s dis­ap­point­ing.

“It should not take 20 to 30 years to re­solve, espe­cially in these very clear cases,” Trice said.

‘A LIFE FOR A LIFE’

Pa­tri­cia Ash­baugh was one of sev­eral at­tor­neys to de­fend Krebs in his trial in Mon­terey County. Now the head of SLO De­fend­ers, the San Luis Obispo law firm that con­tracts pub­lic de­fender ser­vices to the county, she has a dif­fer­ent take.

“In­di­vid­u­ally, I’m very pleased with the gov­er­nor’s an­nounce­ment and grant­ing a re­prieve,” Ash­baugh said. “I think it’s a first step and the sign of a grow­ing trend in the U.S. and Cal­i­for­nia that cit­i­zens are look­ing at the death penalty as some­thing that is not morally ap­pro­pri­ate.”

Asked about the re­sults of 2016’s dual death penalty ini­tia­tives, Ash­baugh said they are far from re­veal­ing the true will of the vot­ers, cit­ing the nar- row mar­gins. She also be­lieves many vot­ers were con­fused by the lan­guage in both ini­tia­tives.

“Put to the vote again, I think the re­sults will be very clear,” she said.

Asked whether she thinks fam­i­lies of vic­tims in the most heinous cases are owed what Dow called “the ul­ti­mate pun­ish­ment,” she said not all sur­vivors want the per­pe­tra­tor killed.

“There cer­tainly are dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives on the death penalty, but there are many, many fam­i­lies that do not seek that as pun­ish­ment for an in­di­vid­ual who has taken a loved one,” she said. “I think a life for a life is not some­thing that all peo­ple en­dorse, even though they have dif­fer­ent stages of anger.”

‘A VERY SOBER­ING DE­CI­SION’

There are cur­rently two mur­der cases mak­ing their way through San Luis Obispo Su­pe­rior Court in which the de­fen­dants are death-penalty el­i­gi­ble.

Carlo Fuentes Flores, 42, stands ac­cused of rap­ing and killing Paso Robles res­i­dent Nancy Woodrum, 62, who had been miss­ing for seven months when Fuentes Flores re­port­edly led in­ves­ti­ga­tors to her body in a re­mote spot off High­way 58 in De­cem­ber.

Daniel Raul Ro­driguez John­son, 31, of Her­itage Ranch, is charged with mur­der­ing 27-year-old Car­ring­ton Jane Brous­sard of Paso Robles on March 3. Brous­sard, nine months preg­nant, was found stabbed to death at her home. Her baby was also killed.

Both men have pleaded not guilty.

On Wed­nes­day, Dow said the gov­er­nor’s mora­to­rium will not af­fect how his pros­e­cu­tors pro­ceed in both cases, be­cause though New­som has said he won’t en­force ex­e­cu­tions, they are still law.

Dow noted that New­som’s ac­tion could be com­pletely un­done by the next gov­er­nor.

“Quite frankly, un­til it’s no longer a law­ful op­tion for us, I think it’s im­por­tant to con­tinue to think about every case in­di­vid­u­ally, gather all the facts, and make a very sober­ing de­ci­sion over whether or not it’s the type of case where the death penalty is ap­pro­pri­ate.”

DAVID MIDDLECAMP dmid­dle­[email protected]­bune­news.com

San Luis Obispo County Dis­trict At­tor­ney Dan Dow looks over some of the boxes of ev­i­dence as­so­ci­ated with the three mur­der­ers on death row from the county.

Rachel Ne­w­house, left, and Aun­dria Craw­ford, right, were killed by Rex Al­lan Krebs.

Rex Al­lan Krebs, mugshot from 2007

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