Hike sentence

Federal judge overturns killer’s death sentence after juror seeks minister’s advice

When Richard Dean Clark was tried for the rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl in Ukiah, one of the jurors began to have qualms about the death penalty, which he generally supported. So he decided to consult his minister.

“He told me that in those circumstances the death penalty would be appropriate because the Bible says ‘an eye for an eye,'” the juror later recalled in a court statement. “The Minister’s advice was helpful. I have long believed that anyone found guilty of murder and found guilty in a particular circumstance should be given the death penalty.

Now, 37 years after the murder and 35 years after Clark was convicted and sentenced to death, a federal judge in San Francisco has overturned the death verdict due to the juror’s contact with someone who may have swayed his vote.

The juror “asked his minister’s advice on a profound moral question at the very moment he was considering having to decide whether to impose life or death,” said U.S. District Judge William Orrick III.

Prosecutors said the juror told them he based his vote on sentencing on the evidence in the case. But Orrick said the timing and circumstances of the conversation, which took place during the jury’s deliberations, “raise a reasonable inference that the (juror’s) sentencing vote was influenced by his inappropriate conversation with his minister.” .

The judge issued his preliminary ruling in May and made it a final order on July 14 when the opposing parties in the case decided not to request a hearing. District Attorney C. David Eyster of Mendocino County, where the murder took place, said Friday the decision likely means Clark will be sentenced to life in prison without parole.

The state attorney general’s office, which pursued the case because a recently elected district attorney had possible conflicts of interest, will not appeal Orrick’s decision and will oppose a new trial, Eyster said in an interview. He said he would prefer to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, but such a review seems unlikely, and the victim’s family members told him “they don’t want to not experience a new death penalty procedure. I don’t want to torture them anymore.

Clark, then 21, was convicted of the rape and murder of 15-year-old Rosie Grover of Ukiah. According to published reports of the trial, she telephoned the California Highway Patrol early in the morning in July 1985 and asked to be driven home from a bus depot, saying she was afraid to walk alone. But the dispatcher told him to call the police.

Two hours later, she was found stabbed and beaten to death in a creek bed. Clark’s lawyer said his client had been under the influence of cocaine, methamphetamine, alcohol and marijuana, and after recovering the next day he was “horrified” by what happened. ‘He did. He confessed to the police immediately after his arrest.

After learning of the juror’s conversation with his minister, defense attorneys asked the state Supreme Court to overturn Clark’s death sentence, but were denied. In federal court, Orrick initially upheld the conviction and death sentence, but the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals told him in 2019 to reconsider based on a recent decision in another case in which a juror contacted a friend during deliberations.

In his recent ruling, Orrick said there was no reason to believe the minister influenced the juror’s decision to convict Clark. But he noted references in the juror’s statement to Clark’s ‘horrendous childhood’ and other evidence indicating the juror experienced ‘spiritual or moral doubt’ about the conviction which may have been influenced by his conversation with The Minister.

Bob Egelko is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @BobEgelko