Clarence Ray Allen provides the strongest argument I've seen for
the death penalty. Allen is slated to be executed on Jan. 17. He ordered the
death of several witnesses who had testified against him from prison while
he was serving a sentence of life for the murder of another witness. As a
result, three innocent people are dead. They've been dead for 25 years.
"This is probably the paradigm of a death-penalty case, in which
really no lesser punishment would be appropriate," noted state Deputy
Attorney General Ward Campbell last week.
The ugly saga starts in 1974. Allen owned a security company.
According to court documents, he enlisted the help of his own son Roger and
two employees to rob Fran's Market, a store east of Fresno owned by the
Schletewitz family, whom Allen had known for years.
Roger Allen invited the Schletewitz son, Bryon, to a party.
While Bryon was swimming, someone took his keys. The Allen gang robbed the
store. Later, Roger's 17-year-old girlfriend, Mary Sue Kitts, confessed to
Bryon that she helped cash money orders stolen from the market.
Bryon confronted Roger Allen and also confirmed that Kitts had
told him what happened.
Clarence Ray Allen then ordered that Kitts be murdered. Between
threatening phone calls from Allen, an accomplice strangled the poor girl.
When Bryon learned Kitts was missing, he went to authorities.
After a 1977 trial, a jury convicted Allen of burglary,
conspiracy and first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life.
In Folsom State Prison, Allen cooked up a scheme to kill the
witnesses who testified against him so that he could appeal his conviction
and then be freed because any witnesses were dead or scared silent. After
Allen's buddy, Billy Ray Hamilton, was paroled, Allen's other son supplied
Hamilton with guns and ammo.
Accompanied by a girlfriend, Hamilton visited Fran's Market,
brandished a sawed-off shotgun and led Bryon and other employees into the
stockroom as he searched for a safe. As the Fresno Bee reported, Hamilton
shot Bryon to death.
He killed Douglas White, 18. Then he shot a crying Josephine
Rocha, 17, through the heart, lung and stomach.
"When you hear the details, it's hard," Teresa Daniele, Rocha's
big sister, told me over the phone. Some 25 years later, "it's still very
raw." Hamilton also shot a 17-year-old clerk, who was left for dead but
miraculously survived, and a neighbor who heard the shotgun blasts and went
to investigate. After being shot, the neighbor then shot Hamilton.
Days later, a wounded Hamilton was arrested while robbing a
liquor store. Police found a list of names and information for eight people
who had testified against Allen, including Bryon Schletewitz and his father,
In 1982, a jury convicted Allen and sentenced him to Death Row.
(A jury also sent Hamilton to Death Row.) The evidence had been
overwhelming. As U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw wrote in a
three-judge Ninth Circuit court decision that rejected Allen's appeal, the
most damning evidence "came directly from Allen."
First, there was the list and the fact that Allen's son helped
Hamilton. Then, there was the fact that Allen had been vocal in letting
people know he would kill any "rat." As Wardlaw wrote: "By committing a
capital crime while having already been maximally punished and while behind
walls thought to protect society, Allen has proven that he is beyond
redemption and that he will continue to pose a threat to society."
And: Allen "has shown himself more than capable of arranging
murders from behind bars. If the death penalty is to serve any purpose at
all, it is to prevent the very sort of murderous conduct for which Allen was
While Allen showed no mercy for his victims, the system has been
quite kind to Allen. Three execution dates were set then stayed. In
September, Allen had a heart attack, then angioplasty. With his execution
looming, he may yet have open-heart surgery.
Now, his attorney, Michael Satris, is using Allen's old age
which his victims failed to attain and poor health as a reason to put off
the execution. I kid you not. Satris argued: "Allen's health is too fragile
for the setting of an execution date at this time because of the risk that
the setting of a date and the procedures that will attend such will cause
him to have a heart attack."
Meanwhile, the families of his victims are dying off. Allen has
outlived Josephine's father, Joseph Rocha, and Douglas White's brother,
George. I'm told that the Kitt parents are dead. Bryon's mother, Fran, died
in 2002. His father wanted to witness Allen's execution, but died in March.
Bryon's sister is the only surviving member of the family. She wants to see
If Allen is executed as scheduled, the sister, Patricia
Pendergrass, told me, "there finally will be truth in sentencing, even
though so many years have passed." She thinks of the "very vicious, cruel
death" forced upon Bryon and Josephine and Douglas, and sees Allen's
execution as infinitely kinder.
If the state can't execute a man who has killed innocent people
from prison while serving a life sentence for murder, then no one is safe.
Except Clarence Ray Allen.