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California executes first person in three years

Protesters console each other as they wait for news of Donald Beardslee's execution outside San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, Calif. on Wednesday.
Protesters console each other as they wait for news of Donald Beardslee's execution outside San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, Calif. on Wednesday.Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A man convicted of killing two women over a drug deal almost a quarter-century ago was executed early Wednesday, the first inmate put to death by California in three years.

Donald Beardslee, 61, was given a lethal injection at 12:20 a.m. at San Quentin State Prison, about 25 miles north of San Francisco. He was declared dead at 12:29 a.m. Thirty government officials, relatives of his victims and journalists were in the room, separated from Beardslee by a glass partition with curtains.

Outside the prison, an estimated 300 protesters stood vigil, decrying the execution as state-sanctioned murder.

Through one of his attorneys, Beardslee told the protesters “that he wanted known his appreciation for these people’s presence,” actor and anti-death penalty activist Mike Farrell said, adding that Beardslee “even sent his regards to the people who put the staples in the signs.”

Schwarzenegger rejects clemency
The execution came hours after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger rejected a clemency petition seeking to commute the death sentence to life without parole, and the Supreme Court rejected two last-minute appeals.

Beardslee’s lawyers claimed he suffered from brain maladies when he killed Stacey Benjamin, 19, and Patty Geddling, 23, to avenge a soured $185 drug deal.

** FILE ** In this photo released by the California Department of Corrections, Donald Beardslee is shown. Beardslee is scheduled to die by lethal injection, Jan. 19, 2004, for having shot one woman and stabbing and strangling another during a daylong rampage in 1981. (AP Photo/California Department of Corrections, File)

His two appeals before the Supreme Court included claims that the lethal injection constitutes cruel-and-unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment, and that jurors were unfairly influenced when they rendered the death verdict.

The court denied his appeals without comment.

Beardslee chose not to have any of his family members witness the execution and hadn’t had a family visit for at least the past month.

He spent the hours leading up to the scheduled 12:01 a.m. execution in a waiting room, where he was able to watch television, read and talk to his spiritual adviser. He turned down a last meal, only drinking some grapefruit juice.

Prosecutors paint a different picture
Prosecutors have said Beardslee was not a passive, unwitting dupe when he committed the murders, as his lawyers claimed.

They claimed Beardslee helped with the murder plot and sent his roommate to get duct tape to bind the victims before they even arrived at his apartment.

“We are not dealing here with a man who is so generally affected by his impairment that he cannot tell the difference between right and wrong,” Schwarzenegger said.

The governor also brushed aside a claim that Beardslee should be spared because he was the only one of the three people convicted in the murders who received a death sentence. The governor noted that Beardslee was the only one on parole at the time for another murder.

Beardslee, a machinist, served seven years in Missouri for murdering a woman whom he met at a St. Louis bar and killed the same evening.

The governor later rejected a request for a 120-day delay of the execution sought by defense lawyers who wanted the time to reopen the case before a federal court.

The last execution in California came on Jan. 29, 2002, when Stephen Wayne Anderson was put to death for shooting an 81-year-old woman in 1980. He was convicted of breaking into the woman’s home, shooting her in the face and then fixing himself a dish of noodles in her kitchen.

California has had 10 executions since the state reinstated the death penalty in 1977. More than 600 men are on the state’s death row.

A year ago, 2½ months after he took office, Schwarzenegger denied clemency to Kevin Cooper, convicted in the hacking deaths of four people in 1983. Cooper later won a stay of execution from a federal appeals court.