Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Tuesday, November 9, 2021


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Cooley Urges Judge Not to Relieve Slayer of Death Sentence

Former District Attorney, Others, Express Views in Amicus Brief Which They Seek to Have Accepted for Filing; Judge Ito Called Upon to Put Order That Gascón Has Spurned in Writing, Find Him in Contempt If He Defies It


By a MetNews Staff Writer


Former Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley and others are seeking to persuade a judge, who is holding a hearing today, not to spare a man convicted of murder in 1997 of a death sentence, which the California Supreme Court unanimously affirmed in 2008, and is asking that steps be taken leading to a possible adjudication that the present district attorney, George Gascón, is in contempt of court.

Gascón, in conformity with a directive he issued on Dec. 7, his first day in office, declaring a policy against the death penalty, is not opposing the petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed by inmate Samuel Zamudio. The slayer of an elderly couple he robbed is seeking to avoid execution based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2002 decision in Atkins v. Virginia which held that the Eighth Amendment is violated in putting to death a defendant with an intellectual disability.

Although habeas corpus petitions are traditionally handled by the Attorney General’s Office, Cooley said yesterday that “the confirmed word” is that Attorney General Rob Bonta “has ordered his deputies to withdraw from habeas proceedings in all Los Angeles County death penalty cases” and “Gascón has made it clear he will stipulate to the error complained of in the habeas corpus writ petition to get rid of the death penalty.”

‘One-Two Punch’

He termed this a “one-two punch,” with Bonta “abdicating his responsibilities” and Gascón then “stipulating to whatever” the habeas petitioner might allege.

Cooley, now a Rolling Hills practitioner, teamed with Long Beach attorney Brentford Ferreira, and victims rights specialist Kathleen Cady of the Dordulian Law Group in Glendale in filing an application yesterday for acceptance of their amicus brief opposing relief for Zamudio. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Roger Ito could allow the brief to be filed and consider it, or could reject it.

Ito previously denied Cady’s request, on behalf of a slain couple’s children, to disqualify the prosecutors in the case, Shelan Joseph and Diana Teran, because they are fresh out of the Public Defender’s Office which is representing Zamudio.

Cooley said he and Cady—who he noted is the lead attorney for the victims’ children—will seek to be heard at today’s hearing.

High Court’s OSC

The California Supreme Court on March 21, 2018, issued an order to the secretary of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to show cause in the Los Angeles Superior Court why relief should not be granted to Zamudio.

Joseph last July 30 filed a Declination to File Return in Response to Order to Show Cause Issued by the California Supreme Court on the Issue of Intellectual Disability (Atkins).” The deputy district attorney wrote:

“[B]ecause the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office concedes that Atkins relief is warranted, Petitioner’s death sentence should be vacated and thus, no return is necessary in this matter. The California Attorney General, who has been consulted, defers to the determination of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office that Petitioner satisfies the Atkins standard and does not oppose the decision to decline to file a return on that basis.”

Among the materials Joseph said her office reviewed was a report by Stacey Wood, identified as “a qualified expert in neuropsychology on the Los Angeles County Superior Court panel of Experts.”

Ito’s Direction

At a hearing on Sept. 14, 2021, Ito took exception to what Joseph filed, instructing that the District Attorney’s Office “file an amended pleading addressing the contents of the report of Dr. Woods, what she based her opinion on, documentation, any testing that she did or she evaluated, any testing or—along the likes of what she thinks is necessary or appropriate.”

Joseph protested in an Oct. 18 brief:

“This request by the Court is violative of the Executive Separation of Powers Doctrine.”

She added that “the People respectfully decline the Court’s invitation to provide additional information as to its decision-making process.”

Amicus Brief

The brief by Cooley, Ferreira and Cady presents this view:

“The fact that the District Attorney’s Office is unwilling to provide the information the court requested speaks volumes on why the court should deny the concession. The District Attorney’s actions are clearly motivated by Gascon’s policy as outlined in Special Directive 20-11 ‘Death Penalty Policy’ which states on page 3: ‘The District Attorney’s Office will not defend existing death sentences and will engage in a thorough review of every existing death penalty judgment from Los Angeles County with the goal of removing the sentence of death.’

“The judgement and sentence of death is presumptively valid. The court is not required to accept a concession by the District Attorney’s Office….”

The brief continues:

“This Court should make its discovery order EXPLICIT AND IN WRITING. If the District Attorney continues to ignore this Court’s order an order to show cause in re contempt would be appropriate.”

Recommended Actions

It adds:

“In a telephone conversation with Supervising Attorney General Anna Kim, Attorney Brentford Ferreira was informed that the Attorney General intended to withdraw from this case. This Court should not allow the Attorney General to withdraw. If this Court orders an evidentiary hearing in this case, it is clear that the District Attorney would refuse to participate. This Court could then order the Attorney General to appear. If the Attorney General refuses, then he could appoint a special prosecutor….

“The victims have a constitutional right to justice and due process. California Constitution Article I, Section 28(b). When the evidence suggests that the District Attorney’s Office and the defense are in collusion, the court is the final and only gate keeper to ensure that justice is done and victims’ rights are upheld. The District Attorney’s Office should not be allowed to concede an issue without any legal justification to reach their desired political outcome.”

Zamudio was convicted of the 1996 slayings of his neighbors, 79-year-old Elmer Benson, 79, and Gladys Benson, 74. He stabbed them to death and stole their money which, according to the prosecution, he needed to keep up an extramarital affair.


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