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Morales denied clemency

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Posted: Friday, February 17, 2006 10:00 pm

SAN FRANCISCO - Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declined to grant clemency Friday to a murderer scheduled to die Tuesday at San Quentin State Prison for bludgeoning and raping a Lodi girl in 1981.

Michael Morales, 46, admitted that he murdered and raped Terri Winchell, 17, but said his own life was worth sparing because of his remorse and redemption on death row.

"There is no compelling evidence that the jury's punishment is not appropriate in this case," Schwarzenegger wrote. "Morales' claim that he is a changed man does not excuse the brutal murder and rape of Terri Winchell."

Winchell's mother, Barbara Christian, said she was relieved by the decision, which was announced as the defense team was holding a news conference in support of clemency at the gates of San Quentin.

"We believed the governor would stand by the victim," said Christian.

Lawyers for Morales told Schwarzenegger that he should be spared because he accepted responsibility and repeatedly expressed regret for the murder. The judge who presided over Morales' trial also asked the governor to commute the sentence to life in prison because new evidence casts doubt on the testimony of a key witness.

But the clemency case lost some strength when defense lawyers, including Former Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth Starr, were forced to withdraw unreliable affidavits that a private investigator claimed to get from jurors who wanted Morales to live.

Prosecutors said affidavits by six trial jurors were frauds and the signatures had been forged. Many of the jurors said they never spoke to the investigator and indeed wanted Morales to die.

Starr and co-counsel, David Senior, appeared shaken at San Quentin when they heard of Schwarzenegger's decision, which was made without any clemency hearing.

"It's disappointing in the extreme," Starr said. "I regret we did not have an opportunity to be heard, but hope springs eternal."

Schwarzenegger has now denied clemency to all five condemned inmates who have requested it since he took office two years ago. The last California governor to grant clemency was Ronald Reagan, who spared a mentally ill killer in 1967.

San Quentin death row inmates

Michael Morales is one of 11 San Joaquin County residents who are awaiting execution and whose death sentences have not been reversed or postponed.

Jerry Bunyard

Jerry Thomas Bunyard, white, received Feb. 2, 1981. Sentenced Feb. 2, 1981. Retrial Sept. 9, 1991. Offense date Nov. 1, 1979. Trial in San Joaquin County.

Antonio Espinoza

Antonio Espinoza, Hispanic, received Sept. 17, 1986. Sentenced Sept. 17, 1986. Offense date Jan. 25, 1982. Trial in San Joaquin County.

Patrick Gordon

Patrick Gordon, white, received May 13, 1985. Sentenced May 3, 1985. Offense date Dec. 18, 1983. Trial in Sacramento County.

Paul Hensley

Paul Lloyd Hensley, white, received Nov. 17, 1995. Sentenced Oct. 13, 1995. Offense date Oct. 16, 1992. Trial in San Joaquin County.

No photo

Mao Hin, Asian, sentenced this year. Offense date Oct. 10, 2003. Trial in San Joaquin County.

Danny Horning

Danny Ray Horning, white, received Jan. 26, 1995. Sentenced Jan. 26, 1995. Offense date Sept. 19, 1990. Trial in San Joaquin County.

Angelo Melendez

Angelo Melendez, black, received Aug. 18, 2003. Sentenced Aug. 18, 2003. Trial in San Joaquin County. No action.

Michael Morales

Michael Angelo Morales, Hispanic, received June 30, 1983. Sentenced June 14, 1983. Offense date Jan. 8, 1981. Trial in Ventura County.

Louis Peoples

Louis Peoples, white, received Aug. 4, 2000. Sentenced Aug. 4, 2000. Offense date Oct. 29, 1997. Trial in Alameda County.

Wesley Shermantine

Wesley Shermantine, white, received May 18, 2001. Sentenced May 16, 2001. Offense date Oct. 14, 1998. Trial in Santa Clara County.

Louis Zaragoza

Louis Zaragoza, Hispanic, received May 24, 2001. Sentenced May 24, 2001. Offense date June 10, 1999. Trial in San Joaquin County.

Source: San Joaquin County District Attorney's Office

Morales has two challenges pending at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which among other things is being asked to block the execution on claims that lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment.

In his clemency petition, Morales said he was led astray by a "manipulative crime partner," his cousin Rick Ortega, who got him drunk and high on PCP the day of the murder. Ortega was sentenced to life in prison for his role.

The petition included support from Judge Charles McGrath who presided over Morales' trial in 1983.

McGrath said he no longer believes the testimony of jailhouse informant Bruce Samuelson, who testified that Morales boasted of his assault and made obscene and derogatory references to Winchell. Samuelson told investigators that the two men spoke in Spanish, a language Morales said he doesn't speak.

"New information has emerged to show the evidence upon which I relied in sentencing Mr. Morales to death - Mr. Samuelson's testimony - is false," McGrath wrote in a statement with the clemency petition.

McGrath told the jury that Samuelson's testimony, at the phase of trial when jurors were considering a life or death sentence, "alone could be used to outweigh" all the reasons against sentencing Morales to death.

The California Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a petition to spare Morales on those grounds, a decision that was also appealed to the 9th Circuit on Friday.

Schwarzenegger wrote that McGrath's memory of the trial was not "an accurate reflection of the record" and that ample evidence supported the verdict.

"Nothing in the record or the materials before me compels a grant of clemency," the governor said.

Associated Press Writer Lisa Leff contributed to this report from San Quentin.

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