November 20, 2005
A Strong Argument for the Death Penalty
Clarence Ray Allen provides the strongest argument I've seen for
the death penalty. Allen is slated to be executed on Jan. 17. He
ordered the death of several witnesses who had testified against
him from prison while he was serving a sentence of life without
parole for the murder of another witness. As a result, three innocent
people are dead. They've been dead for 25 years.
is probably the paradigm of a death-penalty case, in which really
no lesser punishment would be appropriate," noted state Deputy
Attorney General Ward Campbell last week.
saga starts in 1974. Allen owned a security company. According
to court documents, he enlisted the help of his own son Roger
and two employees to rob Fran's Market, a store east of Fresno
owned by the Schletewitz family, whom Allen had known for years.
invited the Schletewitz son, Bryon, to a party. While Bryon was
swimming, someone took his keys. The Allen gang robbed the store.
Later, Roger's 17-year-old girlfriend, Mary Sue Kitts, confessed
to Bryon that she helped cash money orders stolen from the market.
Roger Allen and also confirmed that Kitts had told him what happened.
Ray Allen then ordered that Kitts be murdered. Between threatening
phone calls from Allen, an accomplice strangled the poor girl.
When Bryon learned Kitts was missing, he went to authorities.
1977 trial, a jury convicted Allen of burglary, conspiracy and
first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life without parole.
State Prison, Allen cooked up a scheme to kill the witnesses who
testified against him so that he could appeal his conviction and
then be freed because any witnesses were dead -- or scared silent.
After Allen's buddy, Billy Ray Hamilton, was paroled, Allen's
other son supplied Hamilton with guns and ammo.
by a girlfriend, Hamilton visited Fran's Market, brandished a
sawed-off shotgun and led Bryon and other employees into the stockroom
as he searched for a safe. As the Fresno Bee reported,
Hamilton shot Bryon to death.
Douglas White, 18. Then he shot a crying Josephine Rocha, 17,
through the heart, lung and stomach.
you hear the details, it's hard," Teresa Daniele, Rocha's
big sister, told me over the phone. Some 25 years later, "it's
still very raw." Hamilton also shot a 17-year-old clerk,
who was left for dead but miraculously survived, and a neighbor
who heard the shotgun blasts and went to investigate. After being
shot, the neighbor then shot Hamilton.
a wounded Hamilton was arrested while robbing a liquor store.
Police found a list of names and information for eight people
who had testified against Allen, including Bryon Schletewitz and
his father, Ray Schletewitz.
a jury convicted Allen and sentenced him to Death Row. (A jury
also sent Hamilton to Death Row.) The evidence had been overwhelming.
As U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw wrote in a three-judge
Ninth Circuit court decision that rejected Allen's appeal, the
most damning evidence "came directly from Allen."
was the list and the fact that Allen's son helped Hamilton. Then,
there was the fact that Allen had been vocal in letting people
know he would kill any "rat." As Wardlaw wrote: "By
committing a capital crime while having already been maximally
punished and while behind walls thought to protect society, Allen
has proven that he is beyond redemption and that he will continue
to pose a threat to society."
"has shown himself more than capable of arranging murders
from behind bars. If the death penalty is to serve any purpose
at all, it is to prevent the very sort of murderous conduct for
which Allen was convicted."
showed no mercy for his victims, the system has been quite kind
to Allen. Three execution dates were set -- then stayed. In September,
Allen had a heart attack, then angioplasty. With his execution
looming, he may yet have open-heart surgery.
attorney, Michael Satris, is using Allen's old age -- which his
victims failed to attain -- and poor health as a reason to put
off the execution. I kid you not. Satris argued: "Allen's
health is too fragile for the setting of an execution date at
this time because of the risk that the setting of a date and the
procedures that will attend such will cause him to have a heart
the families of his victims are dying off. Allen has outlived
Josephine's father, Joseph Rocha, and Douglas White's brother,
George. I'm told that the Kitt parents are dead. Bryon's mother,
Fran, died in 2002. His father wanted to witness Allen's execution,
but died in March. Bryon's sister is the only surviving member
of the family. She wants to see justice done.
is executed as scheduled, the sister, Patricia Pendergrass, told
me, "there finally will be truth in sentencing, even though
so many years have passed." She thinks of the "very
vicious, cruel death" forced upon Bryon and Josephine and
Douglas, and sees Allen's execution as infinitely kinder.
If the state
can't execute a man who has killed innocent people from prison
while serving a life sentence without parole for murder, then
no one is safe.
2005 Creators Syndicate