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Thread: Fernando Belmontes, Jr. - California

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2010

    Fernando Belmontes, Jr. - California

    Facts of the Crime:

    On March 15, 1981, Fernando Belmontes, then 19 years old, drove to the San Joaquin Valley home of an acquaintance, Steacy McConnell, hoping to steal her stereo while she was out. Unfortunately, Belmontes had miscalculated and McConnell was home — and in an apparent effort to do away with the only witness to his crime, Belmontes pounded her head 15 to 20 times with an iron dumbbell, crushing her skull. McConnell's parents arrived home later to find their 19-year-old daughter dead on the floor in a pool of blood. Meanwhile, Belmontes and two accomplices had sold McConnell's stolen stereo for $100 and bought some beer.

    Belmontes was sentenced to death in San Joaquin County on October 6, 1982.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2010
    June 14, 2008

    S.F. appeals court overturns death sentence

    A federal appeals court overturned a San Joaquin County man's death sentence for the third time Friday in the battering death of a 19-year-old woman during a 1981 burglary, saying his lawyer failed to present evidence that might have led jurors to spare his life.

    Two previous rulings by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that would have granted Fernando Belmontes a new penalty trial on other grounds were both overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court returned the case to the appellate panel in November 2006 to consider other issues the defense raised, including the claim that Belmontes' trial lawyer represented him incompetently.

    Belmontes, now 47, was a month short of his 20th birthday and living in a halfway house in Stockton in March 1981 when he and two friends decided to rob a home in Victor, east of Lodi. According to trial testimony, Belmontes was confronted by Steacy McConnell and hit her 15 to 20 times with an iron dumbbell, crushing her skull. He and his accomplices took her stereo system and sold it for $100, which they used to buy beer.

    In previous rulings, the appeals court said the trial judge's instructions had probably kept jurors from considering evidence that Belmontes' lawyer had offered in support of a life term, including his good behavior and work on a fire crew while serving a California Youth Authority sentence for being an accessory to manslaughter. But the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in 2006 that jurors would have understood they could consider any relevant evidence when weighing his sentence.

    On Friday, however, the appeals court ruled 2-1 that jurors were not given evidence that could have affected their decision because of lapses by Belmontes' attorney. The ruling, if upheld, would entitle him to a retrial at which a new jury would decide between life in prison and a death sentence.

    Family members at the penalty phase of the trial testified that Belmontes' father was a violent alcoholic who beat his mother. But the appeals court said jurors never heard evidence of other childhood trauma and Belmontes' drug use, or of an attack of rheumatic fever at age 14 that left him with depression and a changed personality.

    Belmontes' trial lawyer failed to offer testimony from a psychiatrist who could have put the defendant's history in perspective, did little to prepare Belmontes or other witnesses for their testimony, and made the "perverse argument" to the jury that life in prison would actually be a harsher punishment than a death sentence, the appeals court said.

    "If the jury had heard even a portion of the available humanizing ... testimony, it is likely that at least one juror would have chosen to spare Belmontes' life," Judge Stephen Reinhardt said in the majority opinion.

    Dissenting Judge Diarmuid O'Scannlain said the evidence cited by the majority was trivial compared to the brutality of the crime and Belmontes' violent record. He said the majority's reversal of the death sentence was based on a "mere desire for mercy."

    (Source: The San Francisco Chronicle)

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2010
    November 2, 2009

    Death penalty case returns to high court

    The US Supreme Court is considering, for the 3rd time, the case of a California man who was sentenced to die in 1982 for the brutal killing of a young woman.

    The California Supreme Court affirmed a death sentence for Fernando Belmontes 20 years ago, but since then the case has bounced back and forth in the federal courts. 3 times this decade, the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Belmontes' death sentence.

    The case is the latest skirmish in the battle between California prosecutors and the Ninth Circuit over the death penalty - and it helps explains the oddity of capital punishment in California. While death sentences are common, executions are rare.

    The Ninth Circuit, based in San Francisco, has a core of liberal judges who say it is their duty to carefully scrutinize capital cases.

    In 1981, Belmontes broke into the home of Steacy McConnell, 19, and beat her to death with a barbell.

    In a 2-to-1 decision last year, Judges Stephen Reinhart and Richard Paez ruled that Belmontes' lawyer had provided "ineffective assistance of counsel" because he failed to tell the jury of the "traumas that Belmontes faced as a youth."

    In 2 earlier rulings, Reinhart and Paez had overturned Belmontes' death sentence on the grounds jurors may have thought they could not consider his conversion to Christianity in prison as a reason for leniency.

    After each of the rulings overturning Belmontes’ sentence, California appealed to the Supreme Court. Twice before, the justices set aside the Ninth Circuit’s decision.

    (Source: The Boston Globe)

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Oct 2010
    November 16, 2009

    Court acts to reinstate death sentence in Calif.

    WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has thrown out, for the third time, a federal appeals court ruling favorable to a convicted murderer in California whose case has bounced around the courts for a quarter-century.

    The justices, in an unsigned opinion Monday, moved to reinstate the death penalty for Fernando Belmontes in the beating death of a 19-year-old woman in 1981.

    Belmontes broke into a house, confronted Steacy McConnell and savagely beat her with a dumbbell. She later died from her injuries. Belmontes stole her stereo, sold it for $100 and spent some of the money on beer.

    A jury convicted him of first-degree murder and sentenced him to death.

    Three times, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has commuted Belmontes' sentence to life in prison. The Supreme Court has three times reversed the appeals court.

    In its most recent ruling, the appeals court split 2-1 in saying that Belmontes' lawyer did such a poor job during the sentencing phase of the trial that it had no choice but to throw out the death sentence.

    The dissenting judge noted that, whatever the lawyer's failings, he succeeded in keeping from the jury strong evidence that Belmontes had committed another murder — information that may well have overwhelmed evidence favorable to Belmontes.

    The case is Wong v. Belmontes, 08-1263

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Oct 2010
    The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit denied a Certficate of Appealability and affirmed the US Supreme Court's reinstatement for Belmontes in an opinion dated June 16, 2010.

    Opinion is here:

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Oct 2010
    June 17, 2010

    Condemned killer loses 28-year bid to avoid execution----An appellate panel that 3 times vacated Fernando Belmontes' sentence gives in to the 3rd U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding it.

    A death row inmate's 28-year quest to have his sentence commuted was dashed Wednesday when a panel of judges from the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals gave in to the Supreme Court's 3rd ruling that Fernando Belmontes doesn't deserve to be spared execution.

    The battle over whether Belmontes' sentence was fair, given his lawyer's failure to present mitigating evidence about the murderer's childhood, ran over a decade among the federal judges and incited internal discord on the Western appeals court.

    The latest high-court reversal was in November, when the justices voted unanimously to reinstate Belmontes' death sentence for the 1981 killing of a Central California woman. Belmontes bludgeoned to death 19-year-old Steacy McConnell at her home in Victor, northeast of Stockton, to steal her stereo, which he sold for $100 to buy drugs.

    "In light of that opinion, we are compelled to affirm the District Court's order denying the writ of habeas corpus," the 9th Circuit panel ruled in a 1-paragraph decision, signaling surrender.

    The 2-1 panel majority that three times vacated Belmontes' sentence consisted of Judges Stephen Reinhardt, appointed to the court by President Carter, and Richard A. Paez, named to the court by President Clinton. Judge Diarmuid F. O'Scannlain, an appointee of President Reagan, dissented from most of the panel rulings in Belmontes' favor.

    Judge Consuelo M. Callahan twice penned dissenting opinions over the full court's vote against reconsidering the judgment of Reinhardt and Paez, saying the panel majority "improperly adhered to its own perspective rather than listen to the Supreme Court."

    (Source: The Los Angeles Times)

  7. #7
    Administrator Moh's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2010
    California Death Row inmate who was near top of execution list dies in prison

    The East Bay Times

    SAN QUENTIN — A condemned murderer who was one of just 16 inmates on California’s Death Row to have exhausted his appeals died of unknown causes, prison officials announced this week.

    San Quentin officials are investigating the death of Fernando Belmontes, 56, but say there was no obvious cause. More details about his death have not been released.

    Belmontes was one of 16 condemned inmates — out of California’s nearly 750 — who had exhausted his appeals. As such, he was considered a top priority for execution.

    Belmontes was sentenced to die at 20 years old, a year after he murdered 19-year-old Steacy McConnell during a 1981 burglary. It started when he and two others broke into McConnell’s home in San Joaquin County, just east of Lodi.

    Belmontes, who was living in a halfway house at the time, bludgeoned McConnel 15-20 times with an iron dumbell, crushing her skull. In 1979, he had been convicted of being an accessory in a voluntary manslaughter, and he attacked his pregnant girlfriend months before the murder.

    California has executed only 13 death row inmates since 1978, including the controversial 2005 execution of Stanley “Tookie” Williams, a Crips gang dropout convicted of a double-murder who’d written books to steer youth away from gang life. The most recent execution was in 2006, when Clarence Ray Allen was executed for organizing three murders while serving a life sentence for another murder conviction. Allen Spent 23 years on Death Row.

    By contrast, 71 condemned inmates have died from natural causes, and 25 have committed suicide since 1978. In November, voters rejected a measure to overturn the death penalty, and passed a measure designed to streamline the execution process.

    Belmontes’ death sentence was overturned in 2003, then reinstated in 2006. Belmontes lost his final attempt at a commuted sentence in 2010.

    Prison officials say they are conducting an autopsy to determine how Belmontes died.

  8. #8
    Moderator Dave from Florida's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2012
    Belmonte's death sentence was overturned several times courtesy of Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the 9th Circuit. SCOTUS reversed him everytime.

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