Release Date: November 16, 2021
Contact:  Michael Rushford
(916) 446-0345

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California Attorney General Rob Bonta and Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón are working together to overturn the death sentences of every condemned murderer convicted in Los Angeles County, according to the Sacramento-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation.

On November 5, Bonta’s office issued Notices of Withdrawal in at least four death penalty cases before county judges to consider new claims by murderers challenging their sentences. Gascón’s office then told the court that it agrees with (concedes) the murderers’ claims and asked the judge to vacate the death sentences and re-sentence the murderers to life without the possibility of parole (LWOP).

“The Constitution of California says that it is the ‘duty of the Attorney General to see that the laws of the State are uniformly and adequately enforced.’ Attorney General Bonta is doing exactly the opposite. He is facilitating collusive litigation by the Los Angeles District Attorney for the purpose of defeating the enforcement of the law,” said Foundation Legal Director Kent Scheidegger.

In death penalty cases which are not being handled by the Attorney General, Gascón is conceding the murderers’ claims and partnering with defense counsel to have the death sentences vacated. While prior to Gascón’s election, cases of this type were handled by multiple deputies, they are now handled by one Deputy District Attorney, Shelan Joseph, who was a longtime member of the Public Defender’s Office until Gascón hired her last March. Nobody under Gascón’s authority is defending the citizens of Los Angeles County and the murder victims in these cases.

The death penalty cases reduced to LWOP by Gascón’s office include (1) Stanley Davis, a habitual felon, who in 1985 kidnapped and murdered two college students in order to steal their car for a planned robbery, and (2) gang member Carlos Hawthorne, who was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1996 home invasion and murder of Vanessa Sells and the attempted murder of her 16-year-old daughter. Both victims were hogtied and shot in the back of the head. The daughter survived. Attorney General Bonta is also withdrawing from the case of Tiequon Cox, a gang member sentenced to death for the 1984 murders of the mother, sister, and two nephews of NFL star Kermit Alexander.

In addition to transferring the capital habeas corpus cases to Joseph, the cases have been removed from the District Attorney’s internal tracking system, preventing other deputies from knowing their status.

“District Attorney Gascón is apparently trying to keep these cases hidden, even though they are public proceedings. The people and the victims have a right to know what is happening,” said Scheidegger.

CJLF Legal Director Kent Scheidegger is available for comment at (916) 446-0345