Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Wednesday, July 27, 2022


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D.A. Gascón Asks Judge Ryan to Relieve Man Who Committed Slayings of Death Penalty


By a MetNews Staff Writer


A hearing is expected to be set today on a request by the Office of Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón to have a death sentence lifted in the case of a man convicted of the March 25, 1994, execution-style slayings two Marymount College students.

The killings—of a Japanese national and a U.S. citizen who had spent most of his life in Japan—prompted an apology to Japan by Walter Mondale, then ambassador to that nation, on behalf of President Bill Clinton.

 Gascón’s request is made pursuant to Penal Code §1172.1 which authorizes a district attorney to request a recall of a sentence and imposition of a new sentence, with a presumption in favor of granting relief. The matter is pending before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William C. Ryan, the court’s specialist in resentencing.

Defendant Raymond Oscar Butler’s attorney, John Aquilina, and Deputy District Attorney Shelan Y. Joseph on July 11 filed a stipulation in which they noted that under the statute, the request can be granted in chambers, and that “if this Court grants the concurrently filed Recommendation for Resentencing, no hearing is needed.”

Should Ryan grant the request, the defendant, Butler will still be under a sentence of death imposed on May 11, 2012 by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ronald Coen, following a retrial, based on Butler having murdered a fellow jail inmate in 1995.

Joseph’s Memorandum

A memorandum signed by Joseph, whom Gascón brought over from the Office of Public Defender, says:

 “The defendant today is not the same, cognitively immature teen-ager who murdered the two innocent victims in this case. All parties agree that, in light of his youth and immaturity at the time of the crime; his significant and permanent cognitive impairments which were present at the time of the crime; his trauma-filled childhood; his intoxication at the time of the crime; the difficulty his jury had in returning a unanimous death verdict; and, the fact that he is currently serving a death sentence in Case No. TA041759, the interests of justice are best served by resentencing the defendant in the instant case to life without the possibility of parole.” The memo points out that Butler “is a middle-aged man of forty-six, having spent his youth and over twenty-five years as a condemned inmate.”

Sec. 1172.1(a)(1), as amended effective July 1, provides:

“When a defendant, upon conviction for a felony offense, has been committed to the custody of the Secretary of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation…, the court may...upon the recommendation of the district attorney of the county in which the defendant was sentenced..., recall the sentence and commitment previously ordered and resentence the defendant in the same manner as if they had not previously been sentenced…and provided the new sentence, if any, is no greater than the initial sentence.”

Supreme Court Opinion

The California Supreme Court on June 18, 2009, affirmed Butler’s conviction of the murder of the two students and the imposition of the death penalty by then-Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James B. Pierce. Justice Carol Corrigan set forth these facts:

“On the night of March 25, 1994, defendant approached Takuma Ito and Go Matsuura in the parking lot of a Ralphs grocery store in San Pedro. Ito and Matsuura were Japanese citizens attending Marymount College. Ito had gotten out of his car; Matsuura was in the passenger seat. As Ito stood by the open driver’s side door, defendant confronted him and demanded money. Defendant took Ito’s wallet, removed cash from it, then forced Ito to the ground and shot him in the back of the head. After a brief pause, defendant fired several times into the car, also striking Matsuura in the head at close range. Defendant drove away in Ito’s car, leaving his victims in the parking lot. Ito and Matsuura were taken to the hospital and kept on life support until their families arrived from Japan.”

Butler testified as to his alcohol and drug abuse and attempted suicide. A petition for a writ of habeas corpus based on alleged juror misconduct is pending. A return is due Sept. 15.


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