Northern California
Victims of the State

20 Cases

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County:   Butte   Fresno   Humboldt   Lake   Merced
Monterey   Sacramento   San Joaquin
Siskiyou   Shasta   Stanislaus   Sutter

Butte County, CA
Lee Barnett
July 6, 1986

Lee Max Barnett was sentenced to death for the torture and murder of Richard Eggett. Barnett blames prosecution witness Bill Cantwell and his biker associates for the murder. The prosecution did not provide much of a motive for the killing. Its witnesses were admitted lawbreakers who were subject to prosecution deals in exchange for their testimony. In what Barnett terms a “farce of a trial,” his attorney insisted on arguing diminished responsibility despite the fact that Barnett testified to his full innocence.

More than 5 years after the murder, Cantwell confessed to Kenneth Clumpus that he had killed Eggett. Clumpus later told Cantwell that he had taped the conversation. Cantwell replied that he was not prepared to go to prison for the murder and he soon committed suicide. As of this writing, Barnett has assembled a large amount of material in his defense, including sworn statements from several witnesses attesting to his innocence and Cantwell's guilt.  (TIJ) (JD)  [2/08]

Fresno County, CA
Bernard Vindiola
July 22, 1976 (Fowler)

Bernard Vindiola was convicted of the shooting murder of Thomas J. McCoy, a security guard at the Peek-a-Boo Bar in Fowler, CA. At the time of the shooting, Bernard, his brother, Eddie Vindiola, several sisters and some friends were at the bar. Christina Vindiola got into a fight with her sisters, Rosie and Elena, and with Eddie's girlfriend, Martina Rocha. McCoy attempted to intervene and stop the fight. In the process he was shot three times, and later died as a result. After the shooting, Christina Vindiola remained at the bar. She told a number of people that her brother, Eddie, had a gun and had shot the security guard. She would later testify that she made those initial statements because she was angry with Eddie. She stated that she did not know whether Eddie had a gun or had shot the victim.

At Bernard's trial, his defense was that Eddie had shot the victim. Bernard's girlfriend was not involved in the fight or with the security guard, but Eddie's girlfriend was. Only one witness, Vaughn Donabedian, claimed to have seen Bernard shoot McCoy. His testimony was questionable for several reasons: (1) The lighting condition in the bar was dark, and it was crowded with 75 to 85 people. (2) Shortly after the shooting, Donabedian said the assailant was 5 feet 10 inches tall and in his late 20s or early 30s. Eddie was 5 feet 9 inches tall and 28 years old. Bernard, however, was 6 feet 1 inch and 21 years old. (3) Donabedian was positive that the killer had gotten in the back seat of a car just before it drove away. However, there was testimony that Eddie, who was unable to drive, got in the back seat, whereas Bernard was in the front seat driving. (4) The day after the shooting, Donabedian was shown a group of photographs, including Bernard's, but could not identify any of them as the assailant. (5) Donabedian was shown a physical lineup three days later and identified someone other than Bernard as the killer. He later claimed at trial that Bernard had been in that lineup, which was incorrect.

In 1979, a state appeals court overturned Bernard's conviction because the defense was prohibited from introducing Eddie's prior conviction of auto theft to impeach his testimony. The court also cited other reasons and noted in its opinion the weight of evidence was in favor of Bernard. It is not known if Bernard was retried, but the Northwestern Law School website lists him as an exonerated person.  (People v. Vindiola)  [10/08]

Fresno County, CA
Troy Lee Jones
Dec 22, 1981 (Fresno)

Troy Lee Jones was convicted of murdering Carolyn Grayson and sentenced to death due to his attorney's ineffective assistance of counsel. The case against him was entirely circumstantial. Jones's conviction was overturned in 1996. A court noted his lawyer failed to seek pretrial investigative funds, conduct an adequate pretrial investigation, interview possible exculpatory witnesses, or obtain a relevant police report. The lawyer also elicited damaging testimony against his client during cross-examination of a witness. The prosecution dropped charges, and Jones was released in 1996.  [9/05]

Fresno County, CA
Keith Doolin

Keith Doolin was sentenced to death for the murders of two prostitutes.  (Justice: Denied)

Fresno County, CA
Ronald Reno
Apr 16, 1996

Ronald Reno was convicted of the felony possession of a handgun. Following his arrest, neither Reno nor his attorneys could locate a witness, Preston Marsh, who could prove his innocence. Marsh was then on the lam and living under an assumed name. Reno was sentenced to 25 years to life under the three strikes law. In 2001, while Reno was working intake at his prison admissions office, he could hardly believe his eyes when he saw the name “Preston Marsh” on a list of new admissions. Marsh, at some risk to himself, volunteered to come forward. With the help of the Northern California Innocence Project, Reno was released after serving 6 years. The DA agreed to the release in exchange for a plea for time served.  (NCIP)

Humboldt County, CA
Jack Ryan
Oct 1925 (Coyote Flat)

In October 1925, the murders of Henry Sweet and Carmen Wagner fostered national headlines. Sweet, 21, and his companion, Wagner, 17, had gone deer hunting in the mountains and were found shot to death along with Wagner's dog. Two local mixed-blood Native Americans, Jack Ryan and his half-brother Walter David were arrested for the crime. Called “halfbreeds” in the press, evidence of their guilt was lacking. David was released but Ryan was charged with the murder of Wagner after a forensic analyst identified a bullet recovered from the victim and shell casings found near her body as fired from Ryan's gun. The politics of Prohibition as well as perjury and planted evidence tainted the case, however, and a jury of 12 white men acquitted Ryan after short deliberation.

Within months, a new DA, Stephen Metzler, was elected on a promise to solve the case or resign within two years. After the prosecutor's men purportedly tortured and murdered David, Ryan was charged with assaulting two young girls. Following an all-night, third degree interrogation and swift court proceedings, Ryan pleaded guilty to the Sweet murder and was sentenced to life in prison – all within 24 hours. Ryan later repudiated his confession, but spent 25 years at San Quentin and was paroled in 1953. Ryan always maintained he did not commit the crimes and did not know who did. A later investigator found that DA Metzler had paid a woman to testify against Ryan, and had gotten two other women to make similar statements. Ryan died in 1978, but Gov. Pete Wilson posthumously pardoned him in 1996.  (UC Berkeley) (New Gun Week 6-1-96) (CWC)

Lake County, CA
Balu & Loftus
July 1996

Arvind Balu and Brendan Loftus were convicted of raping a teenager.  Balu was a UC Berkeley student. The “victim” did not tell anyone about the alleged crime until nine months after her trip to the Konocti Harbor Resort where she said it had occurred. She then gave implausible and inconsistent accounts of the assault. She said that Balu had cut her and drank her blood. After the victim's account was reported to authorities against her will, she immediately destroyed pages of her diary relating to her trip to the resort. Loftus was sentenced to five years in prison, but was completely cleared of the charges within two years. Balu served 8 years in prison, three of them in solitary confinement, before he was cleared.  (DP Focus) (People v. Balu)  [2/09]

Merced County, CA
Jerry Bigelow
Oct 9, 1980

Jerry D. Bigelow and fellow inmate Michael Ramadanovic had escaped from a Canadian jail and were hitchhiking their way south through California. In Sacramento, a driver, John Cherry, picked them up and ended up dead. Both Bigelow and Ramadanovic were arrested. In exchange for immunity from the death penalty, Ramadanovic agreed to testify that Bigelow had shot the victim. Bigelow also confessed to the crime after he was told he would receive a lesser sentence in return for his confession. He did not. At trial, Bigelow acted as his own attorney and was convicted and sentenced to death. He was only 20 years old and had no more than a ninth grade education. In 1983 his conviction was overturned for inadequate representation of counsel.

At his 1988 retrial, Bigelow's defense argued that Ramadanovic had committed the murder while Bigelow was intoxicated and sleeping in the back seat of the car. The defense presented witnesses who testified that Ramadanovic had boasted about the killing and took sole responsibility. Evidence was also presented that Bigelow had, in the past, confessed to crimes that he had not committed. The jury returned a verdict of “not guilty.” The judge, however, declared a mistrial because of some irregularities in the verdict forms. On appeal, an appeals court ordered the trial court to accept the jury's verdict and Bigelow was released.  (CWC) (TWM) (ISI)  [3/07]

Monterey County, CA
Lorenzo Nuñez
Nov 16, 1994 (Salinas)

“A jury convicted Lorenzo Nuñez of murder for supplying rifles used in a gruesome slaying, even though scant evidence showed Nuñez knew of the assailants’ intent. The 6th District Court of Appeal upheld the conviction, but a federal judge overturned it because the jury was shown a videotape in which police lied to Nuñez about the strength of the evidence.”
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Sacramento County, CA
Gloria Killian
Dec 9, 1981

Gloria Killian was convicted of murdering coin collector Edward Davies, shooting his wife, Grace (attempted murder), conspiracy, burglary, robbery, and grand theft. After being initially charged, the charges were soon dropped. Later when a repeat felon named Gary Masse was convicted of the shootings, he named Killian as an accomplice as well as another person, Stephen DeSantis, apparently to deflect attention from his wife. Killian was convicted.

In the early 1990s, lawyers for DeSantis forced prosecutors to turn over piles of documents, including several that pertained to her case. One was a secret letter, written by Masse to the prosecutor, in which he emphasized that he had “lied [his] ass off on the stand” to help convict Killian; another was a letter from prosecutors supporting a sentence reduction for Masse because of his cooperation on the case. The letters gave Killian grounds for appeal. In addition, Killian got major financial help from Joyce Ride, the mother of astronaut Sally Ride. Killian served 18 years of a 32 years to life sentence. After her release, Killian founded the Action Committee for Women in Prison.  (Killian v. Poole)  [7/05]

Sacramento County, CA
David Quindt
Oct 6, 1998

David Quindt was convicted of a fatal shooting that occurred during an attempted theft of marijuana in a home invasion. His co-defendant, Anthony Salcedo, was also charged, but had not been convicted due to a mistrial. Quindt's verdict was set aside after a tipster revealed the identities of the true killers. They were later convicted. Quindt served 2 years of a life without parole sentence. Quindt's case was written about in The Prosecutors by Gary Delsohn (2003)  [6/05]

San Joaquin County, CA
Ernest Graham
Nov 7, 1973 (Tracy)

In 1973 Ernest “Shujaa” Graham and co-defendant Eugene Allen, both blacks, were charged with killing Jerry Sanders, a white prison guard, while incarcerated at Duel Vocational Institute in Tracy, CA. Graham's first trial resulted in a hung jury. Graham was convicted and sentenced to death in 1976 after his second trial. The California Supreme Court overturned that conviction. Graham's third trial ended in another hung jury, and he was acquitted at his fourth trial.  (DPIC)  [12/05]

San Joaquin County, CA
Peter Rose
Nov 29, 1994 (Lodi)

Peter Rose was convicted of raping a 13-year-old girl. For three weeks, the victim maintained that she did not know who her assailant was. Then after a three-hour taped interrogation, police told her she was lying and threatened to dismiss the case if she did not identify her assailant. Family members who disliked Rose, who was their neighbor, pressured her into identifying him. Rose's blood type did not match the semen on the victim's underwear, but the semen sample was deemed too small to conclusively rule him out. Rose served 9 years of a 27-year sentence before DNA testing exonerated him in 2004. In 2005, Rose was awarded $328,200 for the 3282 days that he was wrongfully imprisoned. In 2007, Rose was awarded an additional $1 million combined from the local, county, and state governments.  (IP)  [7/05]

Siskiyou County, CA
Coke & John Brite
Aug 30, 1936 (Horse Creek)

Coke and John Brite, brothers, were convicted of the murders of deputy sheriffs Martin Lange and Joseph Clarke, as well as the murder of Captain Fred Seaborn, a U.S. Navy officer. The Brites, who were gold prospectors, returned to a cabin on their rented land, where their parents stayed, and then headed out again. At nightfall they set up camp on the land of a neighbor, B. F. Decker, and went to bed. Two intruders then entered their camp, another neighbor, Charley Baker, and his friend, Fred Seaborn. At trial, Baker alleged they were looking for a strayed horse that Baker owned. It was later learned that Baker had been using the cabin on the Brites' property for rent-free storage and had motive to drive the Brites from their land. Baker and Seaborn picked a fight with the Brites, which proved to be a mistake as the Brites made quick work of them. Baker then went to a judge and talked him into issuing warrants charging the Brites with assault.
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Siskiyou County, CA
Patrick Croy
July 17, 1978 (Yreka)

Patrick Eugene “Hooty” Croy was sentenced to death for the murder of Bo Hittson, a Yreka police officer. A weekend of partying led to an ill-fated shoot-out between police and a group of Native Americans, including Croy. Croy was convicted of attempted robbery, conspiracy to commit murder, attempted murder, assault, and the murder of the police officer.

In 1985, the California Supreme Court overturned most of Croy's convictions. The Court found that the trial judge had read the wrong instructions to the jury, allowing the jury to convict Croy of robbery even if he did not intend to steal. Because the murder conviction was based on the theory that Croy had intentionally committed a robbery that had caused the officer's death, the murder conviction was reversed.

At retrial in 1990, Croy's defense presented evidence that Croy acted in self-defense during the shoot-out, including evidence that Croy himself was shot twice during the altercation, expert testimony regarding the antagonistic relationship between law enforcement and local Native Americans at the time of the crime, and that Officer Hittson had a blood alcohol level of .07 at his time of death. Croy was acquitted of all charges for which he was tried, based on self-defense. The trial court entered a finding that, if the conspiracy and assault charges had been included in the retrial, Croy would have been acquitted of them as well. Croy was resentenced on these charges and was released on parole.

In 1997, Croy violated parole and was given an indeterminate life sentence. In 2005, Croy's original conspiracy and assault convictions were also overturned. The state decided not to appeal and Croy was freed in Mar. 2005. He had served 19 years in prison, 7 of them on death row.  (85) (Info)  [6/08]

Shasta County, CA
Thomas Brewster
Dec 14, 1984

Thomas Brewster was arrested in 1995 for the 1984 murder of Terry Arndt, 18, and the sexual assault of his teenage girlfriend. Brewster spent two years in jail awaiting trial. The female victim did not identify Brewster at the time of the assault. In 1994, the investigator of the case was promoted to a position that allowed him to reactivate the case. He assigned the case to another investigator who got the female victim to identify Brewster in a 1995 lineup. Eight weeks into Brewster's capital murder trial, DNA test results arrived which exonerated him of the crime and charges were dropped.  (Sacramento Bee)  [11/05]

Stanislaus County, CA
George Souliotes
Jan 15, 1997 (Modesto)

George Souliotes was convicted of arson and triple homicide stemming from a 3 a.m. fire at 1319 Ronald Ave. in Modesto that killed his tenant, Michelle Jones, 30, and her two children, Daniel Jr., 6, and Amanda, 3. At the time of the fire, Souliotes was trying to evict the Jones family from the house. Investigators claimed that Souliotes set the fire to collect insurance money. Investigators also claimed that medium petroleum distillates, a class of sometimes-flammable substances, were found on both Souliotes's shoes and a carpet in the home. At trial many defenses witnesses testified that Souliotes had no financial motive to set the fire. The defense also presented its own arson expert who testified that the fire could have been an accident, possibly caused by a faulty stove. The trial ended in a hung jury.

At the second trial, in 1999, Souliotes was represented by the same trial attorney. The prosecution presented the same witnesses, but this time the defense counsel presented no witnesses at all.  Souliotes was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Since his second trial, arson investigators have reanalyzed the evidence, and found that the medium petroleum distillate found on Souliotes's shoes is not the same substance that was found at the scene.  (IP Arson)  [12/07]

Stanislaus County, CA
Scott Peterson
Dec 24, 2002 (Modesto)

Scott Peterson was sentenced to death for the murders of his pregnant wife, Laci, and his unborn son, Connor. The prosecution argued that Scott killed Laci late on Dec. 23, 2002 or early on the morning of Dec. 24. A neighbor saw Scott in the bed of his truck, which was backed in his driveway, around 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 24. It was alleged that he was loading Laci's body into it. Cell phone records establish that he left his Modesto residence at 523 Covena Ave. around 10:08 a.m. to go to a warehouse at 1027 N. Emerald Ave., where his boat was stored. The warehouse is 9 minutes away.
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Sutter County, CA
William Marvin Lindley
Aug 18, 1943 (Yuba City)

William Marvin Lindley was sentenced to death for the murder of Jackie Marie Hamilton, a 13-year-old girl. On the day of the crime, the victim had been swimming in the Yuba River with other girls around her own age. Lindley, a redhead, operated a boathouse on the banks of the river. After finishing her swimming, the victim went to her house, changed her clothes, spoke to her father, and went out again. She was found 20 minutes to a half-hour later in a dying condition. She was able to sob out to her father that her assailant was “that old red-headed liar in the boathouse, the old-red-headed liar.” She later died without clarifying her statement.
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Sutter County, CA
Robert Dana
Apr 19, 1976

Robert Dana was convicted of murdering his friend Herschel “Gene” Koller and his friend's girlfriend, Elaine Matte. There was no confession, no blood evidence, no witnesses, inconclusive ballistics, and inconclusive gun shot residue testing. The case is one of insufficient evidence.  (JD)  [9/05]