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Circuit Orders Review in Jesse Gonzales Cop Killer Death Penalty

By Robyn Hagan Cain on December 08, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Wednesday that cop-killer Jesse Gonzales will have another day in court.

Gonzales was convicted in a California state court in 1979 of first degree murder, with a special circumstance finding that he killed a law enforcement officer, Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputy Jack Williams, engaged in the lawful pursuit of his duties.

Gonzales was sentenced to death in 1981, and is one of California's longest-serving death row inmates, reports the AP.

This week, the Ninth Circuit said that there was sufficient evidence to reconsider Gonzales' death sentence, but that a state court must evaluate that evidence in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Cullen v. Pinholster.

In Pinholster, the Supreme Court held that a federal court reviewing a habeas petition on the merits under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act may only consider the record that was before the state court when it adjudicated the claim.

Gonzales' appeal asserted that the prosecutor in the case withheld exculpatory materials that should have been turned over under Brady v. Maryland. The argument specifically referred to information concerning one prosecution witness, a jailhouse informant named William Acker.

Acker testified during the guilt and penalty phases of Gonzales's trial that Gonzales had admitted that he intentionally killed Deputy Williams. The prosecutor turned over some material regarding Acker to Gonzales' defense counsel prior to trial, but withheld other material concerning Acker's mental state and credibility.

Gonzales didn't learn about the withheld documents until they were obtained during the federal habeas proceeding in district court.

The state court had already rendered its decision, so the materials were not part of the state court record. Since they were not part of the state record, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals was barred from considering them under Pinholster.

The Ninth Circuit, noting that the Acker materials strengthen Gonzales' Brady claim to the point that his argument could be meritorious, ruled that it would be inappropriate to ignore the materials, so it remanded the case to the district court, with instructions to stay proceedings to allow Gonzales to make his case in state court.

Judges are not known for leniency in cop killer death penalty cases, but the state could decide not to seek the death penalty again in this 30-year-old case. Do you think California prosecutors will follow Pennsylvania's lead and drop the death penalty against Jesse Gonzales, like Philadelphia prosecutors did in Mumia Abu-Jamal's cop killer death penalty case on Tuesday?

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