Thursday, January 19, 2006
Execution Date Set in San Joaquin Valley Rape-Murder
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
A Ventura Superior Court yesterday judge set a Feb. 21 execution date for a Stockton man who raped and killed a 17-year-old Lodi girl whose body was found beaten and stabbed in a nearby vineyard 25 years ago.
Michael Morales, 46, was convicted of murdering Terri Winchell, whose skull, cheek bones and jaw were fractured. Prosecutors theorized that Morales killed the girl in 1981 in a revenge attack for spreading rumors that his cousin was gay.
Winchell’s boyfriend was supposedly involved in a homosexual relationship with the cousin, Ricky Ortega.
Prosecutors said that Ortega enlisted Morales’ help in killing Winchell out of jealousy. Winchell was raped, beaten, stabbed multiple times, and had her jaw broken, according to testimony.
Morales was tried in Ventura County because of extensive pretrial coverage in San Joaquin County. Judge Charles McGrath set the execution date.
The California Supreme Court upheld Morales’ 1983 conviction and the federal courts eventually denied. In 1996, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the federal courts to entertain a variety of challenges to the conviction, which ultimately were rejected.
Among other things, Morales challenged the finding that the murder was committed while torturing the victim — the basis for the death sentence — and alleged that prosecutors concealed an agreement with a jailhouse informant to extract a confession from Morales.
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals eventually rejected those and other arguments in July 2003, holding that while the torture instruction given to the jury was unconstitutional because it did not explain that torture requires “extreme pain,” it made no difference because a lying-in-wait special circumstance was also found true and the torture finding would have been made under any reasonable instruction.
“There is no reason to doubt that after he failed to kill her by strangling her with the belt, he beat her head in with a hammer, and when she still lived, dragged her out of the car, raped her, and stabbed her several times,” Judge Andrew J. Kleinfeld wrote for the appeals court.
The U.S. Supreme Court denied review last October, the same month it denied review of appeals by Stanley “Tookie” Williams and Clarence Ray Allen, both of whom have since been executed.
Twenty-five years after the murder, Winchell’s mother, Barbara Christian, said she’ll never forget her daughter.
“After I was notified by Sgt. Andy Jackson that they were recovering her body from a cold, dark vineyard in Lodi, I looked at the laundry basket with her clean clothes still in it and I thought, ‘This is the last time I will ever be able to fold her clothes,”’ she said. “My heart wrenched with grief.”
If carried out, Morales’ lethal injection at San Quentin State Prison would be the fourth California execution in 13 months.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company