California’s death penalty is reserved for the most violent and heinous killers.
In fact: The death penalty is given to less than 2% of all murderers in California.
These murders are so shocking that juries of law-abiding citizens unanimously delivered the sentence.
Murderers who earned their death sentence include:
- Richard Allen Davis : kidnapped, raped and murdered 12-year-old Polly Klaas. Learn more
- Richard “The Night Stalker” Ramirez : kidnapped, raped, tortured and mutilated 14 people and terrorized 11 more including children and senior citizens. Learn more
- Robert Rhoades: a child rapist, kidnapped 8-year-old Michael Lyons . Rhoades raped and tortured Michael for 10 hours, stabbing him 70 times before slitting his throat and dumping his body in a river. Learn more
- Alexander Hamilton : executed Pittsburg Police Officer Larry Lasater (a Marine combat veteran). Lasater’s wife was seven months pregnant at the time. Learn more
- Spencer Brasure : who tortured former child actor Anthony Guest for hours, electrocuting him with an electric prod, forcing him to eat glass, shoving a broken beer bottle down his throat, stapling his ears and gluing his eyes shut. He was then driven to Ventura County, doused with gasoline and set on fire. Learn more
- Kevin Cooper : after escaping minimum security prison, Cooper attacked the Ryen family, killing the parents as well as the 10 year old daughter and an 11 year old family friend. Learn more
- Aaron Dunn : shot and killed 2 men, Jon Johnson and Michael Daley, in Elk Grove, CA in 2006. He then shot at police who were trying to apprehend him. Learn more
- Tahau “Tao” Rivera : a felon and known gang member, he shot and killed Merced Police Officer Stephan Gray during a routine traffic stop. Learn more
- John Ghobrial : killed and dismembered a 12 yr old boy, disposing of the remains by hiding pieces in concrete blocks and dumping the blocks over the area. Learn more
- Charles Ng : along with an accomplice, Ng kidnapped, raped, tortured and murdered at least 12 people. Parts of the crimes were videotaped by Ng and his accomplice. Learn more
- Lawrence Bittaker : along with an accomplice, the pair kidnaped, raped and tortured women in southern California before being apprehended. The pair made audio recordings of the attacks. Learn more
- Scott Peterson : killed his wife Laci and their unborn son Connor, the crime occurred during the Christmas holiday of 2002. The case gained national headlines while police searched for the soon to be mother. Learn more
- Marco Topete : known gang member led Sheriffs Deputy Jose “Tony” Diaz on a high speed chase while Topete’s infant son was in the car. On a rural road, Topete ran from the car, leaving his son. Deputy Diaz went to check on the child, Topete circled around and opened fire with an assault rifle, striking Deputy Diaz.
- Anthony Cain : murdered his 75 yr old cousins, Ernestine and Lamar Matthews by stabbing them. The bodies were discovered in the home the couple planned on spending their retirement. Learn more
- Joseph Aguayo : a lifetime violent criminal, Aguayo kidnaped and murdered Eva Chu in 1979. She was 8 months pregnant with daughter Kelly at the time of the murder. Learn more
Before a murderer receives the death penalty, several safeguards are in place to ensure that only the worst of the worst of California’s killers receives this sentence:
The Crime Must Qualify
- It must be a First Degree Murder ;
There must be a special circumstance in the case. These special circumstances include such things as:
- Murder during rape, sodomy or other sexual assault
- Murder of a child during an act of sexual abuse
- Torture murder
- Serial murder
- Murder of a police officer or firefighter
- Murder during a robbery, residential burglary, kidnapping or carjacking
- Murder committed because of the victim’s race, religion or sexual orientation (hate crime)
- Murder of a judge, prosecutor or juror
- Murder by a gang member in furtherance of the gang
The District Attorney must decide if the death penalty is appropriate
District Attorneys’ Offices throughout this state have comprehensive and rigorous processes in deciding whether to seek the death penalty. Factors in determining if it is appropriate include such things as:
- The facts and circumstances of the crime
- The defendant’s age and criminal history
- The defendant’s mental health history, if any
The jury must determine the death penalty is appropriate
In order to receive a death sentence, the 12 members of the jury must unanimously decide the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of first degree murder and the special circumstance is true.
Next, during the penalty phase of the trial, the jury then must decide that the aggravating factors in the case outweigh any mitigating factors and the death penalty is warranted. This jury represents citizens chosen from our communities to determine the appropriate punishment.
The death sentence must be upheld by the trial judge
Before the defendant is sentenced to death, the judge who oversaw the trial must agree that the death penalty is justified. The judge, sitting as the 13 th juror, has the power to reduce the sentence to life without the possibility of parole.
Review by appellate courts
When a murderer is sentenced to death, countless other appellate judges review the verdict in order to ensure that the verdict was fair and the defendant received Due Process of law. In many instances, dozens of state and federal judges have reviewed the facts and circumstances of the conviction before a convicted murderer is executed.