Jason Balcom—black, age 18

Sentenced to death in Orange County, California
By: a jury
Date of crime: 1988
Prosecution’s case/defense response: Balcom sexually assaulted, bound, and stabbed to death a pregnant woman—Malinda Godfrey Gibbons—during a 6-week crime spree in 1988 in which he also sexually assaulted and robbed 3 other women upon his release from a juvenile detention facility. The case went unsolved for many years until a DNA match from a sample collected in Michigan allowed the Costa Mesa police to solve the case. The defense presented mitigating evidence that Balcom had suffered mental and sexual abuse as a child, and was in crisis when he was released from the juvenile detention facility.
Sources: Orange County Register 3/1/13, 2/8/14

Francisco Beltran — Latino, age 25 

Sentenced to death in Kern County, California
By:  a jury
Date of crime:  01/24/2010
Prosecution case/defense response:  Francisco Beltran Jr., a member of the Varrio Baker Sureno street gang, shot and killed Ruben Tafoya by shooting him in the head.  Beltran felt that Tafoya had disrespected him when he told Beltran to “mind his business.”  Beltran, who had severely wounded Antonio Galvan by gunshot in December 2009, shouted “Varrio” after killing Tafoya.  In addition to the first-degree murder conviction concerning Tafoya, Beltran was also convicted of dissuading a witness, attempted murder, and robbery for the month-prior incident.
Sources:  The Bakersfield Californian 10/01/13, 10/02/13, 12/04/13, 11/01/14; 2013 WLNR 24587251; 2013 WLNR 30450261

Robert Castro—Latino, age 30

Sentenced to death in Riverside County, California
By: a jury
Date of crime: 5/18/08
Prosecution’s case/defense response: Castro shot Juan Genaro Gonzalez to death during an argument over a stolen computer Gonzalez had reneged on buying from Castro. Also, Castro killed another man during a home invasion a week later. Castro had a long criminal record and a gang affiliation.
Sources: Desert Sun (Palm Springs) 12/19/13

Leonardo Cisneros—age 20, Latino

Sentenced to death in Los Angeles County, California
By: a jury
Date of crime: 8/4/04 and 12/10/04
Prosecution case/defense response: On May 7, 2014, Leonardo Cisneros was convicted of the August 4, 2004, killing of Dianqui Wu, 50, and the December 10, 2004 killing of Joseph Molina, 22. Cisneros was involved in a series of 18 different robberies in the San Gabriel and Whittier areas that left Wu and Molina dead. Cisneros’ uncle reasoned he was just “some nervous, misguided thief” that made a “horrible mistake.” Deputy District Attorney Frank Santoro had a different characterization: “a monster, a ruthless, brutal killer . . .” Cisneros could have walked away with the money, instead, “he did it because, basically, he was an evil man.”
Sources: San Gabriel Valley Tribune, November 19, 2008; CBSLA, September 8, 2014

Kevin Haley—black, age 20

Sentenced to death in Los Angeles County, California
Date of crime: 1984
By: a jury
Prosecution case/defense response: Haley was a serial burglar, robber, and rapist who was tried in 1988 for murdering Delores Clement and, in a separate incident, Laverne Stolzy. The jury found him guilty and sentenced him to death as to Clement, but deadlocked on whether he was guilty of murdering Stolzy. The murder conviction was upheld on appeal, but the finding of special circumstances to support a death sentence was overturned. It was not until 2014 that Haley was retried in a combined proceeding as to the special circumstance for Clement’s murder, and as to guilt or innocence for Stolzy’s murder. The jury found the special circumstance for Clement’s murder, convicted him of the murder of Stolzy. Haley acted as him own attorney and chose to present no mitigating evidence. The jury sentenced him to death for both crimes.
Sources: L.A. Times, 10/18/14 (http://www.dailynews.com/general-news/20141008/another-death-sentence-for-kevin-haley-50-in-1984-los-angeles-murders-of-2-women); 10/4/88 L.A. Times 29 (1988 WLNR 1794228).

Jason Hann—white, age 27

Sentenced to death in Riverside County, California
By: a jury
Date of crime: 2/2001
Prosecution’s case/defense response: Hann killed his 10-week-old daughter Montana in California in 2001 by blunt force trauma to her head, and put her remains in a container that was eventually found in a storage unit in Arkansas. Hann eventually ceased making payments on the storage unit and a buyer of its contents discovered the child’s body and informed the police. Police soon thereafter discovered that he had killed his 2-month old son Jason in Vermont in 1999—those remains were found in a container in a storage unit in Arizona. Authorities also determined that a third child, a month-old boy, had several fractures and was on the brink of death. The defense claimed that Hann was afflicted with bipolar disorder, and did not act with premeditation and deliberation as required for a first-degree murder conviction. Even though Hann was arrested in Maine in 2001, it took more than a decade for him to be extradited to California and for his case to come to trial.
Sources: Desert Sun (Palm Springs) 12/20/13, 2/22/14

Angel Mendoza—Latino, age 32

Sentenced to death in Los Angeles County, California
By: a jury
Date of crime: 10/2007 to 4/2008
Prosecution’s case/defense response: Mendoza killed 4 victims within 7 months for various reasons. He killed a drug-dealing taxi driver who refused to sell him drugs on credit; a man sitting outside over a presumed gang grudge, and two car salesmen while stealing wallet and two cars. He also had a long criminal record. The defense presented mitigating evidence that Mendoza was troubled by mental illness and addictions.
Sources: L.A. Times 1/18/14

Joseph Nissensohn—white, age 30

Sentenced to death in El Dorado County, California (combined with two murders in Monterrey County)
By: a jury
Date of crime: 1981, and 1985 or 1989 (news reports vary)
Prosecution case/defense response: Nissensohn kidnapped and killed teenagers Tammy Jarschke and Tanya Jones in 1981 in Monterrey County, and Kathy Graves in either 1985 or 1989 (news reports vary) in El Dorado County. He was convicted of another murder in about 1990 in Washington, but was only connected with the killings of the three teenagers in California much later through evidence provided by his estranged wife.
Sources: Monterrey County Herald 11/2/13, 12/12/13

Kesaun Sykes – black, age 21

Sentenced to death in Riverside County, California
By:  a jury
Date of crime:  10/15/2008
Prosecution case/defense response:  Kesaun Sykes was the last of four Camp Pendleton Marines sentenced in the killing of Sgt. Janek Pietrzak, 24, and his newlywed wife, Quiana Faye Jenkins-Pietrzak, 26. The proceedings saw three different judges and involved at least twelve defense attorneys.  Kevin Cox, 26, Emrys John, 24 considered to be the gunman, and Tyrone Miller, 26 and considered to the mastermind all worked with Sgt. Pietrzak and Miller disliked him.  John and Miller received death sentences and Cox received a life-sentence without the possibility of parole.  The home was found ransacked with racial slurs spray-painted on the walls to throw off investigators and small fires set to destroy the evidence.  Sgt. Pietrzak was found beaten, hog-tied, and gagged with a sock.  His wife was found naked, bound, her body spray painted, her head duct-taped, and she had been sexually assaulted.  The pair died from gunshot wounds to their heads.  Sykes’s attorney cited his young age, abuse he suffered as a child, and the fact that he was not the shooter in his defense.
Sources:  Orange County Register (California) 08/22/2014, 11/8/2014; 2014 WLNR 31440898, 2014 WLNR 23224984

Hilbert Thomas—black, age 38

Sentenced to death in Orange County, California
By: a jury
Date of crime: 2/2/09
Prosecution case/defense response: Thomas shot to death Elizabeth Palmer and Matthew Scott in a mobile home sales office in order to steal Palmer’s Lexus automobile. Thomas, a realtor, planned to use the car to show homes and make money in a down sales market. The defense presented mitigating evidence that Thomas had experienced a difficult childhood and trauma from his marriage’s collapse.
Sources: Orange County Register 3/13/14, 6/14/14

John Thomson—white, age 46

Sentenced to death in San Bernardino County, California
By: a jury
Date of crime: 2006
Prosecution case/defense response: Thomson fatally stabbed Charles Hedlund after Hedlund offered him a ride. A week later Thomson committed one carjacking and two attempted carjackings. He was also linked to two homicides in Washington. The defense argued that Thomson had a low IQ, a terrible upbringing, and a drug addiction.
Sources: Inland Valley Daily Bulletin 12/19/13, San Bernardino County Sun 4/5/14

Chester Turner—age 20, black

Sentenced to death in Los Angeles County, California
By: a jury
Date of crime: 1987-1997
Prosecution case/defense response: In July of 2007, Chester Turner was sentenced to death for murdering 10 women between 1987 and 1997. Turner was later charged in March of 2011 with four additional murders after DNA evidence linked Turner to the murders of another four women. Over the course of ten years, Turner had engaged in the sexual assault and strangulation of various women in what Deputy District Attorney characterized as Los Angeles’ most prolific killer. When the verdict was read, Turner showed little emotion. The judge stated “for many years [Turner] hunted women in the inner city . . .” and that there is “no doubt the he is a danger to society.” His crimes left “untold tragedy” and dozens of children motherless.
Sources: The Los Angeles Times, June 27, 2014; The Los Angeles Sentinel, August 7, 2014

Ronnie Vang—Asian, age 27

Sentenced to death in Sacramento County, California
By: a jury
Date of crime: 6/25/09
Prosecution case/defense response: Vang had just been released from prison four days earlier when he and his cousin were burglarizing the home of Keith Fessler. When Fessler walked in. Vang tied Fessler up with neckties shot him to death while Fessler pleaded for his life. Vang intended to eliminate Fessler as a witness to the burglary. The defense argued that the evidence of guilt was circumstantial and weak. At the penalty phase Vang denied the crime.
Sources: Sacramento Bee 11/12/13, 1/15/14, Visalia Times-Delta (Visalia, Cal.) 4/26/14

Erran West—age 39, black

Sentenced to death in Kern County, California
By: a jury
Date of crime: 9/4/10
Prosecution case/defense response: “[S]avage doesn’t even begin to describe it,” commented Deputy District Attorney Jim Simson. Over the Labor Day weekend in 2010, Erran West murdered Ernestine Trejo and Levon Vines—shooting both victims in the head and torso—execution-style. West was a member of the East Side Crips and was sentenced to death in June of 2014. Michael Lukehart who represented West thought there were “significant issues” in the prosecutions case regarding witness credibility. In the end, the death sentence for West represents “12 people [agreeing] what happened was intolerable.”
Sources: The Bakersfield Californian, June 20, 2014; July 18, 2014