Death Row Active With Appeals
Wednesday, May 12th, 1971
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