In all likelihood, the California Supreme Court, which has an enormous caseload, will probably just sit on the Ray appeal and wait for the Legislature to make the rules. There’s also a chance it might kick the case back to the Kern County court where the trial was held. There is no execution date set for Ray or any other inmate on California’s death row. If such a date were set for an inmate who claimed to be mentally retarded, the court would be forced to act quickly. But even if the court steps in and plays an uncharacteristically activist role, the ruling would only be the law of the land temporarily, until the Legislature got around to acting.
In the meantime, Robert Ray, who is 65, will continue to hope that his nephew’s life will be spared. He and his wife Kathy write to Clarence Ray Jr. regularly. They send him about $60 a month out of the meager workers’ compensation and disability payments Robert Ray has received since he fell off a ladder seven years ago while working as a press operator. They visit Clarence Ray Jr. when they can, usually making the journey once every two or three years to the Michigan prison where he is serving the life term he got before he was sentenced to death. They are his only visitors.
Robert Ray can’t help but wonder what would have happened if he had been able to get Clarence and his siblings away from their mother and raise them himself. “It was no good for them. I could see that,” he said. “But I was single and I was young and I didn’t have a job. I had no way to take care of ’em. How would I provide for ’em?” He does think his nephew should be punished for his crimes. “I know he did something real bad wrong and he should spend the rest of his life behind bars,” he said. “I agree with that. But executing the kid? I don’t think they should.”
Christine Pelisek contributed to this story. Sara Catania is a 2002 Crime and Communities Media Fellow with the Open Society Institute, a New York–based nonprofit dedicated to reforming the criminal-justice system. The story is one in a yearlong series on death row funded in part by the fellowship.