Death Sentence Reinstated in 1982 Triple Murder

A federal appeals court Monday reinstated the death sentence of triple murderer Ronald Deere, over a dissent saying the majority would allow a judge suffering from dementia to impose the death penalty.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 vote Monday, reinstated Deere’s death sentence saying the trial judge was found to be fair during the 1986 sentencing of Deere and that was good enough for the majority here.

Judge William Fletcher “emphatically” dissented from what he called a “grievous error.”

“The majority holds that a judge suffering from dementia may sentence a man to death.  I disagree,” Fletcher said.

In addition, the panel majority rejected the claim that Deere was entitled to a full-blown competency hearing because he never got one prior to pleading guilty at the time of the murders.

Thirty-one years ago, Deere said he wanted to plead guilty and face execution.  By 1991, Deere had a change of heart and his appeals have been in the courts ever since.  He contends now that he was never given a full competency hearing and that the trial judge who sentenced him in 1986 was senile and should not have been allowed to impose sentence.  Deere wants a hearing to confirm that analysis.

In 2010, U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder, in Los Angeles, overturned Deere’s death sentence based on the failure of his defense lawyers to get a full-blown competency hearing on his fitness to plead guilty in 1982.

“It is undisputed that Deere was fully aware of his situation and had rational reasons for his desire to plead guilty – in other words, that he had ‘the capacity to appreciate his options and make a rational choice’ – it is not reasonably probable that he would have been found incompetent to plead guilty,” Judge Barry Silverman wrote.

Silverman also rejected the claim that Deere should get to probe the mental competence of Superior Court Judge Fred Metheny in imposing sentence in 1986.

“Not only was Judge Metheny affirmed in toto, but the Supreme Court even specifically observed that ‘the record indicates that the trial  court remained scrupulously fair and objective throughout he proceedings,’” Silverman wrote.

Metheny died 25 years ago.

Deere threatened to kill everyone in Cindy Gleason’s family if she broke up with him.  In 1982 he made good on the threat by shooting Gleason’s brother-in-law, Don Davis, and his two young daughters aged 7 and 2, according to the court.

He was arrested days later and said he wanted to change his plea to guilty, even if it meant he would be sentenced to death.

Deere said pleading guilty would protect others and spare them of the ordeal of a trial and protect his family from publicity, according to Silverman.  He was joined by Judge Johnnie Rawlinson.

The two mental health specialists said Deere understood where he was and what was happening.  Neither thought he suffered from a mental disorder.  His lawyer spent hours with his client leading up to the change of plea and attested that Deere seemed fully aware of the ramifications.

In 1986, the California Supreme Court remanded the case for re-sentencing to provide mitigating evidence that would balance the option against execution.  It went to Metheny.  Later, lawyers argued that the judge suffered from senility and should not have been allowed to impose the sentence.

Fletcher argued it is error to deny Deere a hearing on Metheny’s mental competence at the time of Deere’s sentencing.

“In a perfect world, all judges would retire before their mental faculties deteriorate to the point where they are no longer competent to perform as judges,” Fletcher wrote.  “But this is not a perfect world.”

Deere already has a lot of evidence of Metheny’s mental incompetence, according to Fletcher.  The federal trial judge was wrong to deny Deere a hearing on that question.

Fletcher also said it Deere’s lawyers had investigated properly in 1982 they would have found he was incompetent to plead guilty.

Case: Deere v. Cullen, No. 10-99013

 

 

 

ont-v.�n:�|����font-weight: normal; letter-spacing: normal; line-height: 27px; orphans: auto; text-align: start; text-indent: 0px; text-transform: none; white-space: normal; widows: auto; word-spacing: 0px; -webkit-text-stroke-width: 0px;”>Judge William Fletcher “emphatically” dissented from what he called a “grievous error.”  “There is no greater judicial responsibility than deciding whether a person shall live or die at the hands of the state,” he said.

 

He said Deere’s lawyer was ineffective for failing to investigate the competence of the 1982 guilty plea and there should also have been a hearing on the competence of the trial judge to sentence Deere to death in 1986.

Deere threatened to kill everyone in Cindy Gleason’s family is she broke up with him.  In 1982 he made good on the threat by shooting Gleason’s brother-in-law, Don Davis, and his two young daughters aged 7 and 2, according to the court.

He was arrested days later and said he wanted to change his plea to guilty, even if it meant he would be sentenced to death.

Deere said pleading guilty would protect others and spare them of the ordeal of a trial and protect his family from publicity, according to Silverman.  He was joined by Judge Johnnie Rawlinson.

The two mental health specialists said Deere understood where he was and what was happening.  Neither thought he suffered from a mental disorder.  His lawyer spent hours with his client leading up to the change of plea and attested that Deere seemed fully aware of the ramifications.

In 1986, the California Supreme Court remanded the case for re-sentencing to provide mitigating evidence that would balance the option against execution.  It went to Superior Court Judge Fred Metheny.  Later, lawyers argued that the judge suffered from senility and should not have been allowed to impose the sentence.   But at the time, the state’s high court said Metheny was “scrupulously fair and objective.”

That was enough for the majority in the 9th Circuit to reject the defense claim Metheny should have been recused.  Metheny died 25 years ago.

Fletcher argued it is error to deny Deere a hearing on Metheny’s mental competence at the time of Deere’s sentencing.

“In a perfect world, all judges would retire before their mental faculties deteriorate to the point where they are no longer competent to perform as judges,” Fletcher wrote.  “But this is not a perfect world.”

Deere already has a lot of evidence of Metheny’s mental incompetence, according to Fletcher.  The federal trial judge was wrong to deny Deere a hearing on that question.

Fletcher also said it Deere’s lawyers had investigated properly in 1982 they would have found he was incompetent to plead guilty.

Case: Deere v. Cullen, No. 10-99013