Loading...

A Killer’s Plea 

Clarence Ray Jr.’s defense wants California’s highest court to spare his life because he’s mentally retarded

Wednesday, Nov 6 2002
Comments

In an appeal that could set the terms for releasing all mentally retarded inmates from California’s death row, a convicted killer is asking the state’s highest court to lift his death sentence because of his impairment.

The petition, filed on behalf of Clarence Ray Jr., comes in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in June that called execution of the mentally retarded “cruel and unusual” and banned the practice. The court left it up to the states to figure out how to define retardation, with the expectation that each state’s lawmakers would come up with their own set of rules. But an effort to get a law passed in California in August fell apart, essentially throwing the matter to the courts.

Ray’s petition, the first of its kind in California, opens the door for the state Supreme Court to both define mental retardation and determine when in the course of a trial it should be considered. It is unclear how many of California’s 612 death row inmates might make a similar claim. By some estimates, anywhere from 2 to 10 percent of the death row population may suffer from mental retardation — an L.A. Weekly investigation earlier this year found 10 possible cases among the 183 death-row inmates from L.A. County.

Related Stories

  • Marry, People 2

    After the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for same-sex marriage to resume in California last summer, people started getting their vows on pretty much right away. See also: Gay Marriage in California: What Happens Next? But California law still contained antiquated language that defined marriage as "a personal relation arising out of...
  • Glove Law Repealed

    Remember six months ago or so when it looked like everyone from your friendly neighborhood barman to your favorite sushi chef was going to remind you more of a surgeon than someone providing hospitality? That's because on Jan. 1, a law went into effect requiring plastic gloves for all hospitality...
  • Californians Like Teachers But Hate Teachers' Lifelong Tenure and Seniority: Poll 2

    If California teachers felt a shadow pass over today, it was the fairly stunning PACE/USC Rossier Poll showing California residents are sick of "last hired, first fired" teacher union rules and oppose the nearly automatic tenure system that makes it all but impossible to fire crappy teachers. Polls show that...
  • Whole Foods Fined for Overcharging California Customers 5

    Just last week we went into Whole Foods for quinoa and came out with one $150 grocery bag of God-knows-what (we think Parmesan crisps, an organic T-shirt and beer made by Franciscan friars was in there). We are used to, but puzzled by, this phenomenon. So we were more than a little...
  • Porn Delegation

    If a bunch of porn stars showed up at your place of work and begged you to do something, we bet you would. A contingent of adult performers visited the office of L.A.-based state Assemblyman Isadore Hall to personally ask him to back off of his bill to make condom...

Ray, now 46, was sentenced to death for shooting and killing a woman and wounding her companion during a 1984 holdup in the parking lot of a Bakersfield country-western bar. His mental impairment is well-documented. He suffered fetal alcohol syndrome and, when he was 6, was placed in classes for the mentally retarded after he scored 75 on an IQ test. Around that time an examiner noted Ray’s “verbal ramblings and seemingly purposeless movements of hands and body,” called his concept of place “vague” and found that “his basic understanding of words is extremely meager.”

At age 16, Ray’s mental condition deteriorated when a chemical explosion at a rustproofing plant where he worked put him in a coma for four days. Ray went through a prolonged recovery, and doctors monitoring his condition performed an IQ test. It came in at 70. Ray’s uncle, Robert Ray, who testified at the murder trial and is the only family member who continues to keep in touch with him, said in an interview that his nephew was “always slow” and “never seemed right in the head.”

Ray’s attorney, Charles Bush, who has been working on the case for nearly 12 years, has long known of his client’s mental impairment — the issue was raised at Ray’s original trial 15 years ago. But mental retardation could not keep a convicted killer off of death row — until now. Once the U.S. Supreme Court made its ruling, Bush immediately began working on the appeal. “This is a tremendous opportunity for us,” Bush said. “Clarence has a very substantial claim.”

John Thawley, the prosecutor who is scheduled to file the reply to the Ray petition for the California Attorney General by December 2, declined to comment on the merit of the claim. “We’re on the cutting edge of the wave, I guess,” he said. “We’ll just have to respond with our brief and let the Supreme Court decide.”

The evidence of Clarence Ray’s mental retardation is intertwined with the details of a bleak and brutal childhood in the slums of Detroit. According to depositions and court testimony of friends and family members, Ray’s mother, Shirley, had a history of mental illness and once tried to commit suicide as her three children watched. She drank excessively and gave alcohol and drugs to her children, who would go for days without food. She often worked as a prostitute, bringing her customers home to the family’s tiny rundown apartment and forcing her three children to have sex with her and with her customers.

By age 7, Clarence Ray had developed a glue- sniffing addiction. Later he became addicted to other drugs including marijuana, methamphetamines and PCP. At one point, Robert Ray recalled, the courts sent the children to live with their grandmother in Kentucky. But Shirley Ray was unwilling to let her children be. “They were doin’ pretty good a year or two until she came and stole ’em back,” Robert Ray said. “She took ’em right back down. They never had a chance.”

Clarence Ray was first imprisoned in 1974, when he was 19, for second degree murder. While in prison he befriended fellow inmate James Frederick Schulz. In 1984, soon after Ray was paroled, he reunited with Schulz, who Ray’s attorney said had a dominating personality and was the leader of the two. Within a few months, Ray and Schulz were involved in a Michigan murder where the victim was stabbed 66 times. Ray later told a probation officer that he was high on drugs and alcohol at the time of the killing and did not remember it. Ray and Schulz fled to California where they landed in Bakersfield and held up a liquor store. A few days later, outside a country-western bar called Tex’s Barrel House, the pair tried to rob Mark Emmet Doss, 56, and Kathy Lynn Hyde, a 31-year-old cocktail waitress and mother of two. A scuffle followed and both Hyde and Doss were shot. Doss recovered. Hyde died several days later.

Related Content

Now Trending

Los Angeles Concert Tickets

Slideshows

  • The World Cup Celebrated And Mourned By Angelenos
    The World Cup has taken Los Angeles by storm. With viewings beginning at 9 a.m., soccer fans have congregated at some of the best bars in the city including The Village Idiot, Goal, The Parlour on Melrose, Big Wang's and more. Whether they're cheering for their native country, favorite players or mourning the USA's loss, Angelenos have paid close attention to the Cup, showing that soccer is becoming more than a fad. All photos by Daniel Kohn.
  • La Brea Tar Pits "Pit 91" Re-Opening
    Starting June 28th, The Page Museum once again proudly unveils the museum's Observation Pit, which originally opened in 1952 but has spent most of the last half century closed. Now visitors can get an up-close look at Pit 91, which is currently under excavation. The La Brea Tar Pits, home of the Page Museum, is one of the world's most famous ice age fossil locations, known for range of fossils from saber-toothed cats and mammoths to microscopic plants, seeds and insects. The new "Excavator Tour" is free with museum admission if purchased online at tarpits.org . All photos by Nanette Gonzales.
  • Scenes from the O.J. Simpson Circus
    In the months after O.J. Simpson's arrest for the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman in the summer of 1994, the drama inside the courthouse riveted the masses. But almost as much mayhem was happening right outside the building, as well as near Simpson's Brentwood home. Dissenters and supporters alike showed up to showcase art inspired by the case, sell merchandise, and either rally for, or against, the accused football star. Here is a gallery of the madness, captured by a photojournalist who saw it all. All photos by Ted Soqui.