CALIFORNIA DEATH SENTENCE REINSTATED TWICE BEFORE
Fifteen Murderers Have Now Completed All Standard Appeals
The United States Supreme Court has let stand the death sentence of Southern California murderer William Payton, convicted for the rape and murder of one woman and the attempted murder of another woman and her young son. Twice before, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled in Payton's favor. Both times, in 2003 and again in 2005, the Supreme Court reversed because the Ninth Circuit had failed to follow the law enacted by Congress to limit these reviews. In September 2011, the Ninth Circuit finally completed review of the other issues in the case and upheld the sentence.
"This case took far too long because the Ninth Circuit repeatedly evaded the law," said Kent Scheidegger, Legal Director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation. "After many reversals by the Supreme Court, it appears the Ninth has finally gotten the message, and future cases should proceed more quickly." CJLF filed a "friend of the court" brief in the Supreme Court's previous consideration of the Payton case.
Payton is the fifteenth California death row inmate to complete all normal appeals since 2006, when executions were temporarily halted for litigation over the three-drug execution method. "These executions could be carried out within months if the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation would simply adopt the single-drug pentobarbital method now in use in five states and not enjoined by any court," Scheidegger said.
The facts taken from court records depict a brutal crime and irrefutable evidence of guilt. Very early on the morning of May 26, 1980, Patricia Pensinger, unable to sleep, was sitting in her kitchen working on a crossword puzzle. Also staying in her Garden Grove, California home were her 10-year-old son Blaine and some boarders, including 21-year-old Pamela Montgomery. Pensinger's husband was away on duty with the National Guard. At about 4:00 a.m., she heard her front door open and William Payton, a former boarder, walked into the kitchen. Payton said he was having car trouble and needed to talk to her. As they talked, Payton had several beers. At one point, Pamela Montgomery briefly visited the kitchen for a glass of water. About an hour after he arrived, Payton asked Pensinger if he could sleep on her couch. She agreed and went to sleep in her bedroom, where her son Blaine was already asleep in her bed.
Some time later, she was awakened by two blows on her back. She rolled over to see Payton jump on the bed and begin to stab her with a knife. When her son attempted to grab the knife, Payton stabbed him as well. When the knife bent, and could no longer be used, Payton left the bedroom. Pensinger told her son that he should escape and get help while she distracted Payton. When she entered the kitchen, Payton, armed with another knife attacked her again. As Blaine ran through the kitchen, Payton stabbed him in the back then resumed his attack on the boy's mother. When other people in the house began to respond to Pensinger's calls for help, Payton dropped the knife and fled. A short time later, 21-year-old Pamela Montgomery was found on her bedroom floor in a pool of blood. Her nightgown had been torn open and she had been stabbed repeatedly in the stomach. Although Patricia Pensinger suffered 40 stab wounds to her face, neck, back, and chest, and Blaine suffered 23 wounds to his face, neck, and back, both survived.
At the trial, Payton's wife waived her privilege against testifying against her husband. She told the jury how Payton had returned home at about 6:15 a.m. covered with blood. When he removed his clothes, she saw a large amount of blood on his body. The jury also heard testimony from Pensinger and her son, describing the attack, and a county jail inmate who said that Payton admitted committing the crimes. This testimony and forensic evidence convinced the jury to convict Payton of the rape and murder of Pamela Montgomery and the attempted murder of Pensinger and her son.
At the sentencing hearing, the prosecutor presented evidence of Payton's stabbing attack on a woman he was living with in 1973, along with convictions for drug possession and statutory rape. As mitigating evidence, Payton presented the testimony of several witnesses regarding his religious conversion while in jail.
"This horrible crime fully deserves the death penalty," said Scheidegger. "Proponents of Proposition 34 want the people to overturn this judgment to save money on trials and appeals, but those costs have all been incurred and can't be recovered. That is also true for the bulk of the costs in hundreds of other cases. But if Prop. 34 passes, California taxpayers will have to pay food, clothing, shelter, security, and most importantly medical care for this monster to the end of his natural life. That is a bad deal any way you look at it. This case has been thoroughly reviewed, and the well-deserved judgment should be carried out."
CJLF’s brief in the 2005 Supreme Court decision in this case is available at:
A description of the 15 cases that have completed the standard appeals is available at: