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(SACRAMENTO) – At a November 18, 2005, public session, the Glenn County Superior Court set January 17, 2006, as the execution date for death row inmate Clarence Ray Allen. In 1982, Allen was convicted and sentenced to death for masterminding the 1980 triple murder of Bryan Schletewitz, Josephine Rocha and Douglas Scott White at Fran’s Market in Fresno, California, and conspiring to murder eight witnesses who had previously testified against him. At the time of the Fran’s Market murders, Allen already was serving a life sentence in Folsom Prison for orchestrating the 1974 murder of Mary Sue Kitts.
In January 2005, the Ninth Circuit upheld Allen’s conviction in a strongly-worded opinion, which characterized the evidence of Allen’s guilt for the crimes as "overwhelming," with Allen’s own words constituting some of the most "damning" evidence against him. In the Court’s view, "by attacking the witnesses against him, Allen struck the greatest blow possible upon our criminal justice system." In October 2005, the United States Supreme Court denied Allen’s petition for writ of certiorari. The California Attorney General originally prosecuted the case in Glenn County due to a change of venue. The trial lasted 23 days, and 58 witnesses were called to testify. The Attorney General’s Office prosecuted Allen due to a conflict of interest caused by the fact that Fresno County’s then-chief deputy district attorney had previously been in private practice and represented Allen.
Clarence Ray Allen ordered the brutal killings in order to retaliate against witnesses who testified against him at the Kitts trial. While serving a life sentence at Folsom Prison, Allen provided a fellow inmate, Billy Ray Hamilton, who was about to be paroled, with a "hit list" of witnesses. Allen sent a series of coded letters to his son, Kenneth Ray Allen, discussing the details of the conspiracy. Hamilton then went to Fran’s Market where one of the witnesses, Bryan Schletewitz worked. Hamilton murdered Schletewitz and fellow employees Rocha and White with a sawed-off shotgun and wounded two other people, Joe Rios and Jack Abbott. When Hamilton was arrested five days later he carried the "hit list" with the names and addresses of Bryan Schletewitz and the other witnesses. Hamilton also received the death penalty for his role in the murders.
As special circumstances making Allen eligible for the death penalty, the jury found that Allen had previously been convicted of murder, had committed multiple murder, and had murdered witnesses in retaliation for their prior testimony and to prevent future testimony. During a seven-day penalty phase, the Attorney General introduced evidence of Allen’s career orchestrating violent robberies in the Central Valley, including 10 violent crimes and six prior felony convictions. The jury also read Allen’s poetry about murdering informants. The jury returned a unanimous verdict of death, and the Glenn County Superior Court sentenced Allen on November 22, 1982.
In 1987, the California Supreme Court affirmed Allen’s death sentence. Associate Justice Joseph Grodin’s opinion referred to Allen’s crimes as "sordid events" with an "extraordinarily massive amount" of aggravating evidence.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals opinion similarly rejected various claims of errors raised by Allen’s attorneys because they were either meritless or could not have prejudiced Allen given the nature of his case. Allen had the opportunity to present evidence that his trial counsel failed to investigate, and adequately present, certain mitigating information at his penalty phase. However, the Court found that it would not have mattered if the jury had heard additional evidence that Allen could be "pleasant" from time to time. The Ninth Circuit explained:
"[W]e are compelled to conclude that every juror would have reached only one result.... Allen was convicted of directing the murder of Mary Sue Kitts, his own son's live-in girlfriend. This murder was motivated by Allen's oft-spoken hatred for "rats".... Allen plotted from prison the murder of those who had testified to put him there. Allen demonstrated both a lasting hatred for those who had "ratted" him out and an ability to reach beyond prison walls in seeking his revenge. By conspiring and orchestrating the murders of the witnesses against him, Allen destroyed several lives....Allen has expressed no remorse for the crimes that he committed. Given the nature of Allen's crimes, sentencing him to another life term would achieve none of the traditional purposes underlying punishment: incapacitation, deterrence, retribution, or rehabilitation.... 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 rehabilitation and that he will continue to pose a threat to society. The Supreme Court deems defendants who have committed murder while serving a life term in prison unique among capital defendants....The especially aggravating circumstances of Allen's triple-murder and conspiracy are those for which the Supreme Court envisions the harshest penalty."
Allen has now spent twenty-three years taking full advantage of all options for legal relief. Although all the courts which have heard his case have denied Allen’s challenges to his conviction and sentence, he still may seek clemency from the Governor.