Patterico's Pontifications


Death Row Inmate Dies of Natural Causes After 29 Years on Death Row

Filed under: Crime,General — Patterico @ 1:28 pm


A 55-year-old inmate who was on death row at San Quentin State Prison for the kidnapping and killing two Southern California girls died of natural causes early Friday morning.

. . . .

Mattison was sentenced to death in 1980 for the murder of a 9-year-old girl he kidnapped near a community swimming pool in Sante Fe Springs in 1978, and the kidnapping and murder of a 16-year-old girl in Laguna Beach two months later.

This story claims that Mattison was “on death row at San Quentin State Prison for more than 19 years.” Yes, it’s technically true, but I’m still activating the buzzer. Bzzzzzzt!! Back to the remedial math class with you! (Here at Patterico, we know how to subtract 1980 from 2009 — no applause necessary.)

This guy was on Death Row for 29 years.

P.S. You will find people arguing that we should abolish the death penalty because people spend so long on Death Row. These people probably clean their own kids’ rooms, because when they tell their kids to clean their own rooms, the kids whine and take forever to do it.

49 Responses to “Death Row Inmate Dies of Natural Causes After 29 Years on Death Row”

  1. Quit showing off Patterico!!!!

    BT (78b929)

  2. Tragic!
    He was so young, and had so much to live for.

    AD - RtR/OS! (e2278d)

  3. At least now Californians know why it’s referred to as Death Row. A lot of us have wondered about that.

    Dana (57e332)

  4. yes… here is the evidence the wikipedia finds of a “death row” in California…

    Since 1976, 13 people have been executed by the state. As of 21 October 2007 there are 667 people on “Death Row”.

    happyfeet (c75712)

  5. Comment by happyfeet — 7/19/2009 @ 1:40 pm

    Since 1976, how many Death Row inmates have died of “natural causes”?
    In other words, is Mother Nature a more efficient dispenser of Justice than the State of California?

    AD - RtR/OS! (e2278d)

  6. He’s dead, isn’t he ? QED, I’d say.

    Mike K (90939b)

  7. Someone should ask DRJ how long he would’ve lasted on death row in Texas – probably fried within a decade at the latest.

    Dmac (e6d1c2)

  8. That works for me, actually. One of the unquestionable benefits of capital punishment is that even if the usual suspects are delaying the process via appeals, there’s no chance that an idiot governor and/or parole board is going to cut the murderer loose for “good behavior.” I don’t trust “life without parole” for that–as long as the inmate is at least technically under sentence of death, no one is cutting him loose.

    M. Scott Eiland (5ccff0)

  9. Comment by AD – RtR/OS! — 7/19/2009 @ 1:51 pm

    Hence the cynicism in comment #3. We pay somewhere in the neighborhood of $47,000 per year to house an inmate in Cali. When they’re on Death Row, it’s another $90,000 per year on top of that.

    Dana (57e332)

  10. Jail is a slow, slow, slow hell… punctuated with moronic violence and senseless noise.
    Death Row is probably the quietest, safest place in the system

    I heartlessly object to paying $90,000 a year for anyone on death row.
    667 X $90,000 is some real budget savings.

    I’d opt for the injection ASAP if it was me.
    Own my responsibility, and then take my medicine.
    Go see if there is something else out there and if there is, start over. If the whole forgiveness thing goes sour, maybe I can be one of the best people in hell…

    SteveG (97b6b9)

  11. I think they should all be released to save money — but strictly paroled to Palo Alto and Santa Monica.

    Kevin Murphy (0b2493)

  12. Mattson, the article you read has the wrong spelling of his last name…

    His death penalty conviction was in doubt until 1990, at which point the state’s Supreme Court upheld his conviction.

    Xmas (84a4d5)

  13. At #9: Hence the cynicism in comment #3. We pay somewhere in the neighborhood of $47,000 per year to house an inmate in Cali. When they’re on Death Row, it’s another $90,000 per year on top of that.

    I hear that number bandied about all the time and I honestly do not believe it. I am a federal habeas corpus prosecutor (in another state) handling death penalty cases.

    If someone wants to claim that it costs an additional $90,000 to house a death row inmate, I want to see a breakdown. Otherwise it is one of those numbers bandied about that I think is meaningless.

    Dave N (7b47ae)

  14. That will show prospective death row inmates CA means business. Death Row means Death Row, Baybee.

    jpenaz (c68703)

  15. Excellent. Reminded me of one of my all-time favorite unintentionally hilarious blog comments:
    “The death penalty IS NOT a deterrent, witness the number who are on death row in this country.”

    sierra (4be1ff)

  16. #13, I read this from several sources. Perhaps you have more reliable information to the contrary.

    “The additional cost of confining an inmate to death row, as compared to the maximum security prisons where those sentenced to life without possibility of parole ordinarily serve their sentences, is $90,000 per year per inmate. With California’s current death row population of 670, that accounts for $63.3 million annually.”

    * According to Corrections Department spokeswoman Margot Bach, it costs $90,000 more a year to house an inmate on death row, where each person has a private cell and extra guards, than in the general prison population. That accounts for $57.5 million annually.
    (page 4)

    California has 682 people on death row. Each of these inmates costs about $138,000 per year, or about three times what it costs to house non-death-row inmates.

    [note: fished from spam filter — multiple links]

    Dana (57e332)

  17. DRJ, I believe my comment got stuck in moderation. Would you please check? Thx.

    Dana (57e332)

  18. How much extra did it cost the Golden State to have this man on death row rather than simply sentenced to life without the possibility of parole?

    With the exception of a few states, states with capital punishment have plenty of condemned prisoners but very few executions. It’s as though we want to express our rage at how horrible some crimes are, by sentencing people to death for them, but are too squeamish to actually carry out executions. It winds up being both hypocritical and inefficient; what value does capital punishment have under the conditions in which it is (rarely) used?

    How much extra money will California pay to never execute Scott Peterson? And how many times will you be subjected to his smirking mug on the news, as yet another appeal is played out? If he isn’t going to be executed, wouldn’t you be better off having sentenced him to life without parole, and just forgetting about his miserable existence?

    The Dana opposed to capital punishment (474dfc)

  19. Strange how Timothy McVay and Nickles (?) were executed so quickly. Was it not once reported they may have had ties to islamic terrorist camps in the Phillipines?

    Mon (3c07a2)

  20. I’m sorry, Patterico, that youj did not get to pull the trigger before God did. Reminds me of Captain Flag urging Hawkeye to heal the North Korean so he could shoot him.

    timb (8f04c0)

  21. We’d save a lot of money involving endless delays in carrying out punishment of death-row inmates if we’d get rid of the idiotic “leftie” judges throughout the system. You know, the ones who think they’re so humane and caring because their hearts bleed more for convicted murderers than the victims of those murderers.

    Mark (411533)

  22. Comment by Mon — 7/19/2009 @ 8:15 pm

    Hate to burst your bubble but Terry Nichols didn’tdraw a death sentence. According to wikipedia he is currently housed at the federal supermax in Colorado.

    Soronel Haetir (2a5236)

  23. And McVey volunteered to die. He ordered his lawyers to drop all appeals.

    nk (e56d9c)

  24. *McVeigh* although it is better is if the creep is never remembered.

    nk (e56d9c)

  25. Dana,

    I looked at the various sources–all go back to a 2005 quote by Margot Bloch. At least in my state, there is not an additional $90k a year in corrections cost. Indeed, my experience from talking with prison officials is that death row inmates ARE NOT the most dangerous prisoners in the facility–and, in fact, are among the best behaved.

    Dave N (7b47ae)

  26. Mon, I really don’t know if there’s anything to that. As someone mentioned, Nichols survives. A lot of the documents were released to UT Austin by Mcveigh’s lawyer, and I thought we might hear of some Saddam connection, but we never did.

    Sadly, it’s easy to kill people. Some isolated nut can do it, some collection of Islamofascists can do it.

    Juan (bd4b30)

  27. Back at #5, I posed the question of whether or not Mother Nature is a more effective dispenserof Justice than the State Of California; to wit,
    how many inmates on Death Row have died of “natural causes” in the time period that the State has executed 13 men (1976-2009)?

    AD - RtR/OS! (083442)

  28. Dana, when you said “It’s as though we want to express our rage at how horrible some crimes are, by sentencing people to death for them, but are too squeamish to actually carry out executions.”

    that is probably exactly it. The death penalty is, generally, an expression of supreme outrage. And, of course, when the convict is not executed as the jury ordered (and there is no defense appeal won), then justice has been denied and something horrible has occurred.

    There are plenty of arguments on both sides of whether we should have a death penalty, but it’s sickening to me that some places have one and seemingly ignore juries who follow the law.

    Juan (bd4b30)

  29. I recall ( the details are not perfect) a scene from the great police show “Hill Street Blues” – two nuns had been brutally attacked. At the arraigment of the two men accused of the offense the DA had asked the defense for some sort of deal or accomodation – the defense was ready to dispute everything – arrest, evidence, et al. The upshot – with a mob in the courtroom howling for the accused… the DA decided to request the immediate release of the accused – “they say they didn’t do it…I am sure they have nothing to fear…”

    To quote another movie:…”… I love baseball. The crack of the bat. the roar of the crowd…..”

    Californio (ab1e88)

  30. Juan, think about what we do. Even when we carry out executions, we try our best not to hurt the poor dears, but put them to sleep like an unwanted kitten at the SPCA. We have doctors and nurses available, we do it behind closed doors, and we try to assure everybody that it was all done as humanely as possible. That’s what I call squeamish! If you really want to execute someone, if you believe that his crimes were so horrible that he must be put to death, why doesn’t our society have the balls to use the noose, and do it in public?

    The brutally-honest Dana (474dfc)

  31. well Dana, that’s a good question.

    If it were up to me we would not make executions into a public spectacle just because that’s bad (yep, that’s my argument).

    I honestly don’t mind the injection idea just because it seems to be reasonably cheap and I don’t mind the idea of giving the condemned man some mercy. Showing him mercy while carrying out his sentence sends a message that the killer was beneath society in some fundamental way.

    But honestly, I wouldn’t lose any sleep if we didn’t perform executions (simply because it seems like we occasionally get the wrong man and that really bothers me when he’s executed in a way it doesn’t bother me as much if he’s in jail). I just want laws enforced. The jury is the law when they hand down a death penalty. It should only be delayed as absolutely necessary.

    You’re absolutely right that people get squeemish when it’s time to carry this principle out. I would probably not be as bold on this topic if I were the guy actually pushing the needles.

    Juan (bd4b30)

  32. “(simply because it seems like we occasionally get the wrong man and that really bothers me when he’s executed in a way it doesn’t bother me as much if he’s in jail)”

    Juan – Which wrong people have we executed? Do you have a list?

    daleyrocks (718861)

  33. daleyrocks,

    What I said was simple: we occasionally get the wrong man. I didn’t say we execute the wrong man (though I’m sure that happens without really knowing of any cases), but I know of many cases where an innocent man was convicted. You surely don’t dispute that.

    And it bothers me a lot more if the innocent man is executed instead of in prison for a while. Just on a core level, it seems like a fundamentally different thing.

    Knowing just how easy it is for us to get the wrong man, I wouldn’t lose sleep if we just got rid of the death penalty. I actually support the death penalty solely on grounds of negotiating power it gives the state (which I think saves money)… mine is just not die hard support. My position on this is very tepid.

    Juan (bd4b30)

  34. The cynic would say…Well, he was guilty of something!

    AD - RtR/OS! (083442)

  35. But honestly, I wouldn’t lose any sleep if we didn’t perform executions (simply because it seems like we occasionally get the wrong man and that really bothers me when he’s executed in a way it doesn’t bother me as much if he’s in jail).

    The chance of dying in prison for a wrongly convicted man not sentenced is greater than the chance of executing the wrong man. I find it curious that the first doesn’t bother you, when it’s essentially the same fate for both.

    (Side note: since 1950, the US has executed roughly 2,000 people. None have been found to be innocent after the fact, so far.)

    Steverino (69d941)

  36. But honestly, I wouldn’t lose any sleep if we didn’t perform executions

    Well, I would because I think it’s compassionate to seek justice for the horrors that a guilty person — a ruthless killer — has brought down on an innocent life. And to ensure that the guilty, even when behind bars, not repeat his (or her) act of the ultimate crime—although some may believe that all those felons, murderers and non-murderers alike, locked away in prison automatically deserve whatever fate befalls them, which is a concept I don’t subscribe to.

    Mark (411533)

  37. Comment by Steverino — 7/20/2009 @ 5:20 pm

    Our system gives up on that determination after the execution. There is a Texas arson casee that provides strong evidence for a wrongful execution. There may well be other cases, but as I said after execution the state isn’t going to allow any close look at the evidence.

    One link on the Texas case:

    Soronel Haetir (2a5236)

  38. Steverino, I don’t think this topic lends itself to useful statistics.

    I would bet God a fair amount of cash that a few innocent people at least have been executed, but really, only God knows. Regardless, it’s not true that I’m not bothered by innocent people in ‘mere’ prison. It’s just fundamentally much less bad (to me) than executions, and I think this plays out in many ways.

    I think, for example, that juries and witnesses behave differently in cases that aren’t capitol. That’s why I opposed the death penalty for child rape (in Texas). But it’s an issue with no easy answers. As you say, the guilty deserve real penalties. That’s what this thread is ultimately about… California juries said A and the bureaucrats said B, and that’s wrong.

    Juan (bd4b30)

  39. Juan – To me it simply looks like you are backtracking on a clear statement. It’s tough to misread your comment or at least is seems that way to me. You have no evidence that we have executed the wrong people yet it is a concern. People get concerned about all kinds of shit.

    daleyrocks (718861)

  40. Comment by daleyrocks — 7/20/2009 @ 9:03 pm

    Do you reject the Texas arson evidence above? If your standard is a court finding or a governor’s pardon that’s just not going to happen due to the way the system works. If you are going to use those flaws to claim that other flaws don’t exist I’m guessing there is no way for us to reach agreement on this issue.

    Soronel Haetir (2a5236)

  41. Soronel – I haven’t read your link. I was addressing Juan’s typical objection to the death penalty which is usually unsupported by any evidence. He didn’t have any. You apparently claim to have something.

    daleyrocks (718861)

  42. daleyrocks,

    Please spare me the absurd argumentation. I’m not trying to win anything and you clearly aren’t going to convince anyone by denying the obvious.

    If you aren’t going to read my comments, that’s no problem with me, but if you do, you’ll see that I support the death penalty several times before you asked me to explain why I oppose it with proof that is extremely unlikely to surface (a court inquiry that is moot and politically unpopular). I was accepting the point of view of someone else by noting that I wouldn’t lose sleep over it… in other words, that my support for the death penalty was not based on some kind of outrage. This isn’t backtracking and my comment cannot possibly be misunderstood as you apparently have misunderstood it.

    If you really, honestly think that we have never executed an innocent person, well… you’re a true believer, I guess. Personally, I don’t care about it in the way you do. I just want the law followed, and in California is plainly isn’t when none of these people are being executed.

    google has a lot of stories aobut witnesses exonerating people who have been executed. I didn’t post them because it’s beside the point. The fact that our justice system is imperfect, which without question it is, and the fact that we have many cases of innocent people being convicted, is a worthy argument for not executing. This is a fundamental value issue, not a ‘well if we can just tweak it here and there’ issue. I’m merely recognizing the basic problems we have with witnesses and juries, and noting that this means I can live with the loss of a valuable plea bargaining tool.

    It doesn’t matter that much to me whether some scumbag lives 50 years in a cell or if he lives 20 years in a cell and then is killed. Neither is going to reverse any crimes, and in the worst cases, neither will come close to paying a fair price for the crime. What matters to me is reducing the number of crime victims. That makes my train of thought a lot more convoluted and involved.

    And it’s not about ‘winning’ or ‘backtracking’. This isn’t some silly match to me, my friend. I am glad you are passionate about this issue, but I’m not, and I would appreciate it if you didn’t put words in my mouth when I went to at least some length to make clear I support the death penalty.

    Juan (bd4b30)

  43. and the fact that we have many cases of innocent people being convicted

    In this age of DNA testing and improved police-lab techniques, in tandem with large numbers of skittish, I’m-okay-you’re-okay jurors, jurists and prosecutors, and, certainly kum-bah-wah trial lawyers and politicians, I don’t think your concern has as much relevance as it may have had several decades ago. If anything, the bigger problem in today’s era is that a lot of variations of OJ Simpson are running around the streets of America, or are behind bars anxious to be paroled, itching to be released ASAP, and to inflict their deeds all over again on the next set of vulnerable or unwary people around them.

    Mark (411533)

  44. Comment by Mark — 7/20/2009 @ 11:53 pm

    Yet conviction rates remain very high and as pointed out by the NAS report many areas of forensic science that are routinely accepted as evidence have not been verified as being accurate. Fingerprints have been accepted as extremely reliable evidence for a century now yet the claims don’t pan out when actually tested. And examiners routinely come back with different results when old case materials are slipped into their work stream with different contextual information attached.

    Soronel Haetir (2a5236)

  45. Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.

    Ecclesiastes 8:11

    LarryK (7e3e6d)

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    CA Death Row inmate finally dead. Of natural causes. After 29 years in prison. | Daily Danet (87daef)

  47. had he lived just 3 more weeks

    he was scheduled to be released

    with an ankle bracelet

    because of the budget cuts

    but he was on his honor

    to behave

    voice of reason (5f06cb)

  48. […] Patterico: A 55-year-old inmate who was on death row at San Quentin State Prison for the kidnapping and […]

    Hookers and Booze » Death Row Inmate Dies of Natural Causes After 29 Years on Death Row (5a6faf)

  49. During a story on the Calfornia budget crisis the local news noted that the cost to CA taxpayers to keep each inmate imprisoned in the state is roughly $45,000/year. Do the math, allowing for inflation, and calculate the cost of taking very good care of this very bad guy for 29 years.

    DCSCA (9d1bb3)

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