Death Row Inmate Stanworth

Dennis Stanworth has been called an evil man. In 1965 and 1966, he committed some atrocious crimes in California and was sentenced to death.

• August 12, 1965. Approximately 5:30 pm.
o Richmond, CA, outside a shopping center (Contra Costa County).
o 20 year old nursing student.
o Forced his way into her vehicle, threatened her with a knife.
o Bound, stripped, raped, choked into unconsciousness, threatened to kill her.
o Afterwards, he told her that he was sorry and was glad that he’d not killed her. He promised that he would never do it again.

• November 4, 1965. Approximately 8:30 pm.
o El Sobrante, CA, outside a shopping center (Contra Costa County).
o 24 year old married mother of four.
o Blitz attacked her with ice pick, pulled her into a vacant field.
o Bound, stripped, raped, robbed, threatened to kill her.

• May 13, 1966. Approximately 9 pm.
o Richmond, CA, outside school parking lot (Contra Costa County).
o 17 year old high school student.
o Forced his way into her vehicle, threatened her with a knife.
o Bound, stripped, beat, forced oral copulation, threatened to kill her.

• August 1, 1966. Morning.
o Along a highway in Pinole, CA (Contra Costa County).
o Susan, 14, and Caree, 15, high school students.
o Picked up hitchhiking teens, drove to secluded area, kept girls under control with a gun.
o Shot Caree in the head. Shot Susan in the head and raped her dead body.
o Bodies found on August 3. Susan was still alive, although comatose.

• August 3, 1966. Approximately 8:15 pm.
o Pacifica, CA, outside a shopping center (San Mateo County).
o 18 year old girl.
o Forced his way into her vehicle, threatened her with a knife.
o Robbed, bound, beat, choked, raped.
o Left the girl on the beach and stole her car.

The stolen car was his undoing. He was caught within a few hours. While in custody in San Mateo County, Stanworth voluntarily admitted to his crimes. He asked for the Contra Costa County authorities to come, and he again admitted what he had done. On August 18, 1966, Stanworth was indicted in Contra Costa County with the following:
• 1 count of murder
• 1 count of kidnapping to commit robbery with bodily harm
• 4 counts of kidnapping
• 3 counts of forcible rape
• 1 count of sexual perversion
• 1 count of robbery
• 1 count of assault with intent to commit murder

When Caree died from her injuries on September 12, 1966, without having regained consciousness, a second indictment was handed down for another murder, and removed the count of assault with intent to commit murder.

Stanworth first submitted pleas of not guilty by reason of insanity, but when two psychiatrists certified that he was completely sane, he changed his pleas to guilty. Because this was a capital murder that qualified for the death penalty, he had to have a sentencing trial with a jury. He attempted to get this waived, but the request was denied. The jury “fixed the penalty on each of the murder counts at death and one the kidnapping count at life imprisonment without possibility of parole” (People v. Stanworth, 71 Cal.2d 820, p.1).

Stanworth fought the courts on the mandatory death sentence appeal. He asserted again and again that he was guilty, the trial was fair, and the sentence was correct. He begged the courts to kill him. He remained on Death Row.

So why do I bring up this history? Because just a few days ago, Stanworth called the police to report that he had killed his 90-year-old mother “on or about” November 6, 2012. The police investigated, and sure enough, a body was found outside the house that Stanworth shares with his wife and father-in-law in Vallejo, CA. What?! How could he be there … he was on Death Row, right? Wrong.

In 1972, California decided that the death penalty was unconstitutional and commuted the sentences of those on Death Row to life. This is where things become confusing. Because the sentences did not specify life without parole, he was eligible for parole. However, according to the aforementioned appeal, the kidnapping penalty did specify life without parole. Regardless, in 1990, he showed remorse at the parole hearing and was granted parole.

I am confused here with these findings. If the parole board had done any of the checking that they are required to do – even just reading the appeals decision, as I did, they would have seen that this was his methodology. He apologized to his first victim and swore he would never do it again. Yet he did. He testified in court that he admitted his crimes to the San Mateo County and Contra Costa County authorities because “I couldn’t live with it no more. I just … I just had to get it off my chest. I knew it was wrong and I just had to tell somebody.”

Whatever the reasoning for the Board’s ineptitude, and the governor’s for going along with it, Stanworth found himself free after only serving 23 years on Death Row for 12 felonies, including two first-degree murders.

Stanford University law professor Robert Weisberg is reported in the papers as having said, “Paroling a murderer who has served a long sentence is empirically a pretty safe proposition. The recidivism rate for lifers on parole is pretty low.” He does add a caveat to that: Inmates with sex crime backgrounds do not fall into that category.
Those that were on Death Row and had their sentences changed to life are called “The Class of ’72.” There were 107 inmates on that list, and 42 ended up getting paroled. Of those, according to figures that are 10 years old, only 12 had been charged and/or convicted of new crimes. Two of those, Darryl Kemp and Robert Lee Massie, killed again. Now you can add Stanworth to that list.

For us writers, this case is a fantastic source of ideas. But for all citizens, this is a very scary situation. What are your thoughts?

4 thoughts on “Death Row Inmate Stanworth

    • One of the other death row inmates that had his sentence commuted to life was Charles Manson. At least he hasn’t made it out. Two of those that did get paroled killed again shortly after getting out. One has already been executed and the other is on Death Row in San Quentin.

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