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San Quentin death row – where California‘s most macabre and twisted killers were once caged – is being shuttered and converted into a ‘positive, healing environment.’

The prison ward is seeped in dark history dating back to March 3, 1893 when the first of 215 prisoners was hung. It has since housed notorious murderers including Charles Manson, Richard ‘the night stalker’ Ramirez, and William Bonin, a serial killer who killed at least 21 young men and boys.

It’s the current home of Scott Peterson, who was sentenced to death in 2005 for the murder of his wife Laci and their unborn son.

Governor Gavin Newsom placed a moratorium on executions in 2019, and is now moving to dismantle San Quentin’s death row – the nation’s largest  – and transfer 670 condemned inmates into the general prison population.

‘We are starting the process of closing death row to repurpose and transform the current housing units into something innovative and anchored in rehabilitation,’ corrections department spokeswoman Vicky Waters told The Associated Press.  

San Quentin State Prison's death row has housed some of the most notorious killers in American history

San Quentin State Prison's death row has housed some of the most notorious killers in American history

San Quentin State Prison’s death row has housed some of the most notorious killers in American history

California is now shutting it down and repurposing the ward into a 'positive, healing environment'

California is now shutting it down and repurposing the ward into a 'positive, healing environment'

California is now shutting it down and repurposing the ward into a ‘positive, healing environment’ 

Clarence Ray Allen, 76, was the last person to be executed in California. He died in 2006

Clarence Ray Allen, 76, was the last person to be executed in California. He died in 2006

Clarence Ray Allen, 76, was the last person to be executed in California. He died in 2006

California, one of 28 states that maintain death rows, carried out its last execution in 2006. In January of that year, Clarence Ray Allen, 76, was injected with a lethal combination of drugs.

Allen was sentenced to death for ordering the deaths of three people in 1980 while serving a life sentence for murder in the state’s Folsom Prison.  At the time of his execution he was legally blind, frail, reliant on a wheelchair, and suffered from diabetes and chronic heart disease.

Before he died, he turned to loved ones watching from a crowded gallery and said, ‘I love you,’ according to a DailyMail.com report form the time. 

Lethal injection was among three methods of execution used at San Quentin’s death row throughout its 129-year history.

California hanged its last condemned prisoner in 1936 before turning to legal gas as its sole method of execution. However, since 1996, executions have only been carried out by lethal injection.

Allen, who was blind and dependent on a wheelchair at the time of his death, reportedly mouthed 'I love you' to loved ones watching from a gallery before he was killed. San Quentin's legal injection facility is pictured on September 21, 2010

Allen, who was blind and dependent on a wheelchair at the time of his death, reportedly mouthed 'I love you' to loved ones watching from a gallery before he was killed. San Quentin's legal injection facility is pictured on September 21, 2010

Allen, who was blind and dependent on a wheelchair at the time of his death, reportedly mouthed ‘I love you’ to loved ones watching from a gallery before he was killed. San Quentin’s legal injection facility is pictured on September 21, 2010

Throughout the decades, America’s most nefarious and cold-blooded killers have done time on San Quentin’s death row, among then stagecoach robber Black Bart, serial killer Charles Manson and Sirhan Sirhan, who was sent to San Quentin’s death row for assassinating Robert F. Kennedy. 

Richard Allen Davis, 67, has been on death row at the prison since his 1996 conviction in the kidnap-murder of 12-year-old Polly Klaas of Petaluma, California. The case helped gain support for California’s ‘three-strikes law’ for repeat offenders.

Newsom, a Democrat, shut down the state´s execution chamber at San Quentin, north of San Francisco, after issuing the execution moratorium. 

Now his administration is turning on its head a 2016 voter-approved initiative intended to expedite executions by capitalizing on one provision that allowed inmates to be moved off death row.

‘The underlying motive of the administration is to mainstream as many of these condemned murderers as possible,’ said Michael Rushford, president of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which backed the initiative. ‘Our objective was to speed up the process.’

He added he doesn’t think victims are happy with the administration’s decision.

‘They´re moving condemned murderers into facilities that are going to make their lives better and offer them more amenities, while the victims still mourn the death of their family member,’ Rushford said.

Newsom said voters approved the move, though he doubts many understood the provision.

‘When they affirmed the death penalty, they also affirmed a responsibility… to actually move that population on death row out and to get them working,’ Newsom said.

Killer Richard Allen Davis

Killer Richard Allen Davis

Victim Polly Klaas

Victim Polly Klaas

Richard Allen Davis, 67, has been on death row at the prison since his 1996 conviction in the kidnap-murder of 12-year-old Polly Klaas of Petaluma, California

Throughout the decades, America's most nefarious and cold-blooded killers have done time on San Quentin's death row, among then serial killer Charles Manson. He's pictured in an undated file photo

Throughout the decades, America's most nefarious and cold-blooded killers have done time on San Quentin's death row, among then serial killer Charles Manson. He's pictured in an undated file photo

Throughout the decades, America’s most nefarious and cold-blooded killers have done time on San Quentin’s death row, among then serial killer Charles Manson. He’s pictured in an undated file photo

In this undated file photo, men gather in San Quentin's prison yard while waiting for meals

In this undated file photo, men gather in San Quentin's prison yard while waiting for meals

In this undated file photo, men gather in San Quentin’s prison yard while waiting for meals

Corrections officials began a voluntary two-year pilot program in January 2020 that as of Friday had moved 116 of the state´s 673 condemned male inmates to one of seven other prisons that have maximum security facilities and are surrounded by lethal electrified fences.

They intend to submit permanent proposed regulations within weeks that would make the transfers mandatory and ‘allow for the repurposing of all death row housing units,’ Waters said.

The ballot measure approved six years ago also required condemned inmates to participate in prison jobs, with 70 per cent of the money going for restitution to their victims, and corrections officials said that´s their goal with the transfers. By the end of last year, more than $49,000 in restitution had been collected under the pilot program.

Newsom said voters approved moving condemned prisoners into general population jails. 'When they affirmed the death penalty, they also affirmed a responsibility ... to actually move that population on death row out and to get them working'

Newsom said voters approved moving condemned prisoners into general population jails. 'When they affirmed the death penalty, they also affirmed a responsibility ... to actually move that population on death row out and to get them working'

Newsom said voters approved moving condemned prisoners into general population jails. ‘When they affirmed the death penalty, they also affirmed a responsibility … to actually move that population on death row out and to get them working’

Notable inmates on San Quentin’s death row 

 SCOTT PETERSON

After he reported his pregnant wife missing on Christmas Eve 2002, police pursued nearly 10,000 tips, and looked at parolees and convicted sex offenders as possible suspects. Ultimately, Peterson was arrested and convicted of first-degree murder in the death of Laci Peterson and second-degree murder for their unborn son in Modesto, California 

LONNIE FRANKLIN 

A serial killer nicknamed the ‘Grim Sleeper,’ Franklin was convicted in 2016 for the killings of nine women and a teenage girl in Los Angeles dating to the 1980s. He was linked at trial to 14 slayings, including four women he wasn’t charged with killing

CHARLES NG

He was convicted along with an accomplice, Leonard Lake, of killing 11 people at a cabin in the Sierra Nevada foothills during the 1980s. Lake killed himself in 1985. Ng’s prosecution cost California approximately $20 million, the most expensive trial in state history at the time

RODNEY JAMES ALCALA

Prosecutors said Alcala, now 75, stalked women like prey and took earrings as trophies from some of his victims. He was sentenced to death in 2010 for five slayings in California between 1977 and 1979. In 2013, he received an additional 25 years to life after pleading guilty to two homicides in New York. Investigators say his true victim count may never be known

VINCENT BROTHERS

A former high school vice principal, Brothers was convicted of killing his wife, their three young children and his mother-in-law. Prosecutors said he tried to create an alibi by flying to Columbus, Ohio, with the pretext of visiting his brother. He then drove his rental car to Bakersfield, California, to kill his family and returned to Ohio. Now 57, he’s been on San Quentin’s death row since 2007.

 

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Newsom´s proposed budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 seeks $1.5 million to find new uses for the vacant condemned housing.

It notes that death row and its supporting activities are in the same area as facilities used for rehabilitation programs for medium-security San Quentin inmates. The money would be used to hire a consultant to ‘develop options for (the) space focused on creating a positive, healing environment to provide increased rehabilitative, educational and health care opportunities.’

San Quentin´s never-used $853,000 execution chamber is in a separate area of the prison, and there are no plans to ‘repurpose’ that area, Waters said.

California voters supported the death penalty in 2012 and 2016, though legislative opponents have said they hope to put the issue before voters again in coming years. An advisory panel to Newsom and lawmakers, the Committee on Revision of the Penal Code, in November became the latest to recommend repealing the death penalty, calling it ‘beyond repair.’

Under the state´s transfer program, condemned inmates moved to other prisons can be housed in solitary or disciplinary confinement if officials decide they cannot be safely housed with others, although they are supposed to be interspersed with other inmates. Inmates on death row are housed one to a cell, but the transferred inmates can be housed with others if it´s deemed safe.

‘There have been no safety concerns, and no major disciplinary issues have occurred,’ Waters said.

When it comes to jobs and other rehabilitation activities, condemned inmates outside death row are treated similarly to inmates serving sentences of life without parole. That includes a variety of jobs such as maintenance and administrative duties, according to prison officials.

The condemned inmates are counted more often and are constantly supervised during activities, officials said.

Under current rules, condemned inmates can be transferred unless they are in restricted housing for disciplinary reasons, have pending charges, or have been found guilty of certain disciplinary offenses in the past five years.

But they also are ‘carefully screened to determine whether they can safely participate in the program,’ according to the department. That includes things like each inmate´s security level, medical, psychiatric and other needs, their behavior, safety concerns and notoriety.

Female condemned inmates are housed at the Central California Women´s Facility in Chowchilla. They can transfer to less restrictive housing within the same prison, and eight of the 21 have done so.

The men can be moved to California Correctional Institution; California Medical Facility; California State Prison, Corcoran; Centinela State Prison; Kern Valley State Prison; Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility; or Salinas Valley State Prison.

Gangster Juanita Spinelli was the first woman to be gassed for slaying a fellow gang member to prevent him from snitching. She was 53 at the time of her November 22, 1941 death

Gangster Juanita Spinelli was the first woman to be gassed for slaying a fellow gang member to prevent him from snitching. She was 53 at the time of her November 22, 1941 death

Gangster Juanita Spinelli was the first woman to be gassed for slaying a fellow gang member to prevent him from snitching. She was 53 at the time of her November 22, 1941 death

Since its gas chamber was installed in 1938, 194 people -including four women – were killed through 1967. 

Gangster Juanita Spinelli was the first woman to be gassed for slaying a fellow gang member to prevent him from snitching. She was 53 at the time of her November 22, 1941 death.

In 1947, Louise L. Peete became the second woman to be executed in California. 

She initially served a life sentence for killing her boss and cashing his forged checks worth $750 in 1920, but was granted parole decades later, only to kill again.

She was sentenced to death in 1945 after murdering another boss, Margaret Logan, and burying the victim’s body in a backyard. 

Louise Peete was paroled after killing her first boss, but sentenced to death after killing a second boss and burying the victim's body in a backyard. She's pictured in a 2021 mugshot

Louise Peete was paroled after killing her first boss, but sentenced to death after killing a second boss and burying the victim's body in a backyard. She's pictured in a 2021 mugshot

Louise Peete was paroled after killing her first boss, but sentenced to death after killing a second boss and burying the victim’s body in a backyard. She’s pictured in a 2021 mugshot

Convicted killer Emma LeDoux

Convicted killer Emma LeDoux

Convicted killer Emma LeDoux

Convicted killer Emma LeDoux

Emma LeDoux – dubbed the ‘Trunk Murderess’ was the first woman to be sentenced to death in 1906 for poisoning her husband and stuffing his body in a trunk

Emma LeDoux – dubbed the ‘Trunk Murderess’ was the first woman to be sentenced to death in 1906 for poisoning her husband and stuffing his body in a trunk. 

‘She tried to have the trunk shipped to her home in Amador County but the trunk wasn’t properly registered so it sat on the platform,’ says a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation historical report.

‘Train station personnel noticed the smell and became suspicious.’ 

LeDoux’s death sentence was downgraded to life behind bars and she was paroled from San Quentin after just 10 years, only to be nabbed again for ‘running a bogus marriage scheme.’  

Source: Daily Mail

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