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    Benjamin Wai Silva - California

    Facts of the Crime:

    Benjamin Wai Silva was sentenced to death in Lassen County on August 11, 1986 for the murder of Kevin Thorpe. Silva stands convicted of the gruesome abduction, robbery and murder of Thorpe in Madeline, California. Thorpe and his girlfriend, Laura Craig, were college students returning from winter break when they passed through Madeline on their way to Oregon. On January 11, 1981, Silva and two accomplices, Joe Shelton and Norman Thomas, kidnapped Thorpe and Craig after spotting the couple at a filling station in town. The three men forced the couple to drive to Shelton's property and proceeded to take their cash and belongings. Thorpe was then chained to a tree while Craig was taken inside a cabin and repeatedly sexually assaulted. The next day, Silva and Shelton killed Thorpe by inflicting multiple gunshot wounds from an automatic weapon. Thomas then dismembered Thorpe's body with an axe (purportedly on Silva's orders) and stuffed the remains into several trash bags, which were each buried in shallow graves. Several days later, Craig was shot twice and killed by the side of a road.

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    November 7, 2006

    Burns will not seek the death penalty in Silva murder case

    Lassen County District Attorney Robert Burns will re-try Benjamin Wai Silva for the gruesome 1981 murder of Kevin Thorpe, but the DA said he will not seek the death penalty.

    By Sam Williams
    News Editor

    Burns made the announcement in a press release on Friday, Nov. 3.

    Silva, 53, was convicted of the abduction, robbery and murder using an automatic weapon 24 years ago in Madeline, but the murder conviction was overturned last year, making Silva eligible for parole.

    No one can predict what decision the parole board might make, but even the possibility that Silva could be free again is unacceptable to Burns.

    “The status of the case of the state of California versus Benjamin Wai Silva has been such that I knew the case needed to be retried,” Burns wrote in his release. “If the case was not retried, Ben Silva would be immediately eligible for parole consideration. I could not and would not rest on the hopes that the parole board would do the right thing and deny parole.”

    Once Burns made the decision to re-try Silva, he had to decide what penalty he should seek. While Burns’ first decision may have been an easy one, his second decision was not.

    “Having made the decision to re-try Ben Silva for the death of Kevin Thorpe,” Burns wrote, “the next question became what punishment would I seek. The state of the case is such that I have a choice: I can choose to proceed by way of a sentence of life without the possibility of parole or I can choose the death penalty. That decision is mine and mine alone.”

    Although Burns believes Silva should die for his role in the murder, he said he will not seek the death penalty.

    “In my heart, I believe Ben Silva should die for his crimes and, as a supporter of the death penalty, I would have no difficulty being a part of that,” Burns wrote. “However, after consulting my senior staff, reviewing the evidence available to me after 25 years of appeals and discussing the case with the victim’s family’s representative, I chose life without the possibility of parole.”

    In July 2005, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Silva’s murder conviction and ordered the prosecution to retry or re-sentence him because of misconduct by then Lassen County District Attorney Paul DePasquale.

    According to the court records, DePasquale and Silva’s defense attorney Tom Buckwalter, a former district attorney in Plumas and Modoc counties, made a secret deal not to tell the jury about an agreement to delay a mental evaluation of Thomas until after the original trial. Thomas was the chief witness for the prosecution against Silva.

    “We leave Silva’s convictions on the kidnapping, robbery, and firearms charges undisturbed,” the decision said, but the court ordered Lassen County to “retry Silva within a reasonable time or re-sentence him based on these remaining convictions.”

    The remaining charges subject Silva to two life sentences and he faces 15 years in federal prison on related charges, but he could be eligible for parole.

    The crime

    Silva, Joe Shelton and Norman Thomas kidnapped Thorpe and his girlfriend, Laura Craig, college students who passed through Madeline on their way to Oregon returning from winter break, according to the district court decision authored by Judge B. Fletcher.

    In a trial held before Silva’s, Shelton was convicted of murdering both Thorpe and Craig. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole, according to court records. He appealed and was sentenced to life in prison.

    Former Lassen County Superior Court Judge Joseph Harvey sentenced Thomas to seven years in prison for his part in the crimes. He entered a plea to reduced charges after providing key prosecution testimony against Silva and Shelton.

    Silva and Shelton killed Thorpe by inflicting multiple gunshot wounds from an automatic weapon, according to Fletcher’s decision. Thomas then dismembered Thorpe's body with an ax (purportedly on Silva's orders) and stuffed the remains into several trash bags, which were each buried in shallow graves.

    Craig was shot twice and killed by the side of a road. Thomas informed police of the murders later that month after he was found in possession of a firearm in violation of his probation.

    Crucial evidence withheld

    The court found the prosecutor in the original case, Lassen County DA Paul DePasquale, withheld evidence. DePasquale did not tell defense attorney Tom Buckwalter, former Plumas and Modoc county district attorney, about an agreement to delay a mental evaluation of Thomas, the chief witness for the prosecution, until after the original trial.

    The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decisions said, “The prosecutor’s own conduct in keeping the deal secret underscores the deal’s importance.”

    The decision also said, “Here, Thomas’ attorney Rex Gay declared in his uncontroverted affidavit that the prosecutor agreed with Gay’s assessment that a psychiatric evaluation of Thomas could be damaging to the State’s case against Silva.”

    “… If the jury had been presented with evidence of the prosecution’s own doubts as to Thomas’s mental capacity, the jury might not have believed Thomas’s account with regard to either murder.”

    “… In sum, because evidence of the undisclosed deal could well have undermined the credibility of a vital prosecution witness, ‘there is a reasonable probability that, had the evidence been disclosed to the defense, the result of the proceeding would have been different.’”

    The court concluded, “In our justice system, the prosecuting attorney occupies a special position of public trust. Courts, citizens, and even criminal defendants must rely on these public servants to be honorable advocates both for the community on whose behalf they litigate and for the justice system of which they are an integral part. When prosecutors betray their solemn obligations and abuse the immense power they hold, the fairness of our entire system of justice is called into doubt and public confidence in it is undermined.”

    It said, “The reliability of the jury’s verdict as to Silva’s role as the triggerman in Thorpe’s murder was compromised by the Lassen County District Attorney’s unscrupulous decision to keep secret the deal he made to prevent an evaluation of the competence of the state’s star witness. The particularly atrocious nature of the crimes with which Silva was charged cannot diminish the prosecutor’s — and our court’s — duty to ensure that all persons accused of crimes receive due process of law.”

    http://www.lassennews.com/index.php?...0murder%20case

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    Perpetrator in grisly Lassen County double murder may be released this week

    BY JANE BRAXTON LITTLE
    The Sacramento Bee

    SUSANVILLE - A man convicted in the double-murder of two college students in Lassen County 35 years ago could be released from prison this week.

    Joseph P. Shelton, 63, has spent 35 years behind bars. A parole board recommended in 2014 that he be freed on grounds that he had been a model prisoner and a positive influence on other inmates.

    Gov. Jerry Brown reversed that decision, but Shelton – who became a Buddhist monk in prison – filed an appeal in Mendocino Superior Court, where his 1981 jury trial was held. The court overturned Brown’s reversal in January.

    A Mendocino judge scheduled to hear the case Thursday could rule that Shelton should be released, said Mark Nareau, his court-appointed attorney.

    In a separate court action, Shelton is arguing that his conviction should be overturned because of the disclosure of a secret deal reached by a former Lassen County district attorney and the attorney for one of Shelton’s co-defendants back in 1981.

    Currently housed at the High Desert State Prison in Susanville, Shelton was one of three men convicted in the brutal killing of Kevin Thorpe, 21, and his girlfriend, Laura Craig, 20.

    The couple were on their way back to college in Oregon on Jan. 11, 1981. Shelton and his two co-defendants saw them changing a tire in Madeline, in northern Lassen County, and followed them north on Highway 395. They stopped them by putting a red light on their car, pretending to be police.

    Benjamin Wai Silva, Norman Thomas and Shelton forced them to drive to Shelton’s property in a remote rural area near Madeline, about 60 miles north of Susanville.

    Thorpe was chained to a tree while Craig was taken into the cabin and repeatedly sexually assaulted. The next day Thorpe was shot multiple times with an automatic weapon and died. His body was dismembered with an ax and stuffed into trash bags, which Thomas buried in shallow graves.

    Craig was shot twice and killed several days later. Her body was dumped at the bottom of a hill in Shasta County.

    Shelton was convicted of the first-degree murder of Thorpe and the second-degree murder of Craig. He was sentenced to life in prison.

    Shelton learned from documents in a prison law library that, in 2005, Silva’s 1982 death penalty conviction had been overturned by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which found that his defense was flawed by an undisclosed agreement between prosecutors and Thomas.

    Before the 1981 trial, Lassen County District Attorney Paul DePasquale had serious doubts about the mental competence of Thomas, who had recently sustained a head injury in a motorcycle accident. He agreed to a request by Rex Gay, Thomas’ attorney, to avoid having Thomas examined by a psychiatrist. That allowed Thomas to testify against Silva and Shelton in exchange for having murder charges against him dropped. He served seven years in prison.

    Attorneys for Shelton and Silva were not told of the deal between DePasquale and Gay involving Thomas’ mental health, according to court records. “Had the jury known … it would have reached a different result,” the records state.

    After his conviction was overturned, Silva returned to Lassen County in 2007 for a second trial, pleading no contest to murdering Thorpe. He was sentenced to 25 years to life.

    Shelton filed an appeal of his murder convictions based on the same secret deal. In August 2015, the 9th Circuit court ruled that his first-degree murder conviction was improper.

    The ruling stated that Shelton should either be retried on the first-degree murder of Thorpe or resentenced for second-degree murder, Nareau said.

    The case is pending in Lassen Superior Court.

    http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/cri...#storylink=cpy

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