Death Row Active With Appeals

SAN QUENTIN, May. 12 — The sound of pounding typewriters echoes through San Quentin’s death row as inmates start preparing new appeals, hoping to keep alive following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling supporting the death penalty.

Nearly all the 93 men on the nation’s most populous death row expected the court to affirm the death penalty as it did last week.

Execution dates have not been set for most of the prisoners because the California Supreme Court has not yet ruled on their automatic appeals. But 24 had been given stays pending appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court and higher courts and for them the time factor is acute.

“There is a tendency to put the thought of death out of your mind,” said Robert Douglas Hill, under sentence of death for murder. “And a lot of us really haven’t thought about it for a long time. But you have to get used to it.”

Hill, a 27-year-old former salesman, was convicted in Los Angeles five years ago of the rape and murder of a pregnant housewife. He had an execution date two years ago but it was stayed pending the high court ruling.

As one of the 24 directly affected, Hill said in an interview he was not optimistic. Nonetheless, he said he typed several letters to his attorneys and others within hours after the decision was handed down May 3.

“You start thinking about all sorts of things,” he said. “I have to make out a will shortly. And what am I going to do with my house? I have a few little things. Who am I going to give them to if I’m one of the first to go?”

Hill said he expects the U.S. Supreme Court to turn down his appeal since it was based on many of the same issues the high court rejected in its decision involving fellow San Quentin inmate Dennis C. McGautha.

The high court rejected McGautha’s argument that juries should be stripped of “absolute discretion” to decide on the death penalty in capital cases. It did not rule on whether the death penalty constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Hill held out little hope that the court’s refusal to rule on this ultimate challenge would block future executions.

Nonetheless, he said, nearly all inmates had written their lawyers and were rereading transcripts of their cases looking for new constitutional issues to raise.
Hill also expressed hope that the American Civil Liberties Union or the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People might come up with a blanket new challenge to the death penalty that would affect all death row inmates.

Though the decision was generally expected, all those interviewed said they were disappointed that the court did not set specific guidelines on who shall live and who shall die.

“There should have been some guidelines,” said Stanley Carl Rhinehart, a tall, well-built former collegiate football player.

“I think it’s set the judicial system back 25 years.

“I don’t think the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment. It’s the way it’s applied…The death penalty depends on who is the person.

“Say like me. What motivated the jury to give me the death penalty? I’d never been arrested. Had an honorable discharge. What motivated the jury to give me the death penalty when guys on several felonies get life? It’s all political.”

Rhinehart was convicted of murdering Patricia Graham, 22-year-old secretary to Los Angeles City Councilman Thomas Bradley, and her fiance, Osborn Crump, 23. He said he was framed and is hoping for a reversal by the California Supreme Court, where his case is pending on automatic appeal.

Hill agreed, saying, “It seems to me that a question of life or death should be decided on something other than whim. The jury could not like the length of your hair, your looks – any prejudice at all and that’s enough.”

Time still hangs heavy on death row. But the court decision has made a difference. As Hill put it: “You were kind of straddling a fence. Now you’re kind of tilting in one direction.

“Nobody outwardly reacts with a great show of emotion,” he said. “You see only little things, an increase in the noise of typewriters. I think the closest anyone comes to showing they’re upset is when they step out of character – like doing more talking.

“That’s what they’ve been talking about – Would you like to go by yourself or would you rather go with somebody else? There’s also been a lot more joking about when you go,” Hill said.

For every death row inmate, meeting death is an individual thing.

Rhinehart said, “I’ve seen too much of death to fear it. I’ve seen too much of life to be disappointed in it. Not that I’m going to go down there quietly. They have no right to take my life and I’m going to fight.”

For Paul Perveler, 34-year-old former insurance adjuster convicted of murdering his second wife and another man in what authorities said was a scheme to collect $105,000 in life insurance, “there are worse things than dying.”

Perveler, who hopes to be freed by the California Supreme Court, which is reviewing his case, said that according to state Atly. Gen. Evelle Younger “20 million Californians are now gratified that they can murder us.”

“After years up here, they say they’re going to feed you your last meal. Like you really feel like eating, right? Then, you walk down and the district attorney and the judges, they all come to watch.

“Then, they put gas in your lungs and when they’re through, they put a needle into your heart – just to make sure. I’d like to see some of the 20 million people in favor come and watch,” he said.

But Robert Beausoleil, 23-year-old follower of cult leader Charles Manson, said death does not exist for him. “If they kill us, they’re destroying the world.

“If I die, I don’t die because there’s no such thing as death. The world dies,” said the handsome Beausoleil, who is appealing a conviction for the murder of a Malibu musician, Gary Hinman.

Hill said his greatest worry is whether he can again prepare himself for death. “It’s very hard to prepare yourself to die. And I know it will be harder and harder each time to go through the ritual.”

By EDITH M. LEDERER

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4 Responses to Death Row Active With Appeals

  1. Judy Weintraub says:

    This article was written a long time ago, 1971. It’s now 2014. By chance and by accident today while searching for something completely unrelated, i stumbled onto a story of the 1966 murder of Phyllis Black by Robert Douglas Hill (quoted at length in this article). Actually what i came across today was a legal document detailing the denial of a motion to vacate an order denying a new trial by Mr Hill in 1969, it contained a detailed summary of the facts of the case. I just wondered if he was ever executed, or what happened to him. So i googled his name. I found very little. As i learned from this article, he had been given an execution date, which was stayed pending higher court rulings. He says in this article that he expects to be executed in the near future. I wasn’t able to find anything else about him after this article. He had some automatic appeals pending, i think. I just thought i would check the California State prison inmate locator, you can look up an inmate’s name. It said no search results were found. I spent a long time on google trying to find out what happened to Mr Hill but was not able to. He’s not serving a life sentence apparently. Maybe he died in prison. If he’s alive, he would be 70 right now. I was not expecting that there would be no public record of people executed. I doubt that my comment is going to be published here, since the article is archived of course, but i will give it a try, in case the reporter who wrote the article sees it and has any information on what eventually happened to Mr Hill.

  2. sue says:

    Hi Judy, my name is Sue and I am a niece of Phyllis Black. She was murdered when I was only 10. Just today I was engaged in Family constellations work and somehow the whole issue of my aunts tragic death along with her unborn child came up. I decided for the first time ever to google the incident and just read the supreme court report which were very disturbing. Then I wanted to find out what happened to Robert Hill and I found your appeal here. this is quite odd that you just wrote this 4 days ago! Why are you interested in this case? Have you had any responses yet? Thank you, Sue

  3. Dan Black says:

    Judy and Sue,
    My name is Dan Black. I am the nephew of Richard Black (Phyllis Black’s husband) and son of Richard’s only brother Gerald (deceased Aug 7, 2007 age 86). I live in Detroit Michigan, where Richard is originally from. I never met my Aunt Phyllis, but everyone that knew her said they loved her. I was 10 when this murder occurred and remember it being a tragic shock to my family. I remember my dad saying Richard eventually forgave Hill. This always amazed my dad. Richard sadly passed away in early 1970. He was 36 years old at the time. The official cause of death was a heart attack. His friend said later he had died of grief. I was also googling Phyllis’s death and found the People vs. Hill decision. I too am curious as to Hill’s fate.

  4. Devon T Hill says:

    I just read this article. I am the son of Robert Hill. When I was 6 my father admitted to me that he spent 14 years in San Quentin prison for the rape and murder of someone. I never asked many questions about it, because my father has always been a good man my entire life, that prison and self work changed him. My father lives in North Carolina currently and is in his 70s. I really feel for the Blacks family, and just want people to know that my father instilled in me that respecting women is the most important thing.
    My email is [email protected] if anyone would like to talk.

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