As of 2013, Chief now has a pro bono lawyer, Richard Seshwate, who is pursuing his sentencing and the penalty phase. Hearings are being held in Fresno in 2013 and 2014, and a retrial is expected in 2015. There are articles in the Fresno Bee about the hearings. We will keep you informed of developments.
I am Douglas Ray Stankewitz, better known as “Chief,” and in 2013 I am the longest resident on California’s Death row. I am a 51-year-old Mono Indian who has been on Death Row now for 36 years for a murder I did not commit but was convicted by false testimony and fabrication of evidence.
When I was 11 my older brother badly wounded a policeman with a shotgun blast in his face and I was in the car with my brother. Although my brother admitted to the crime, I was considered equally guilty, and subsequently institutionalized for a few years.
I think this may by why I was framed for a murder once I was old enough to be sent to Death Row. My childhood was very difficult but I was a fighter and very good at survival. I was taken away from my family after a severe attack at age five sent me to the hospital. In one foster home I fought off an attempt to smother me. Another time when I was quite young some rival Indians actually buried me alive, being angry at my brothers; but they relented and dug me out again before I suffocated.
When I was 18, I was seized for a murder I didn’t commit, and despite two gun tests that proved I hadn’t fired a gun, I was convicted. The police finally had the satisfaction of getting a death sentence for one of my notorious family; it hardly mattered which one. I went to Death Row in 1978. More details about the trial are below.
I have been on Death row 36 years and until 2013 never had a lawyer who would submit an appeal that questioned evidence of my guilt or serious errors in my trial process. My court appointed lawyers are paid by the court and therefore obviously do not want to go against that court’s decision, so I am unable to contest that trial. Someone unable to afford high lawyer’s fees is not and cannot be adequately represented in court. As an Indian, I can only conclude that those in power conspire to repress and harm minorities, and this country’s history bears that out.
When I arrived on California’s Death Row, I refused to join a gang and be under their control; I stood alone. I let it be known that I’d never lose a fight and they’d never break my spirit, and 32 years later it’s still intact.
Others who also don’t want join the gangs have gravitated to me. They all are extremely strong physically and inwardly. I estimate that about ten percent of the inmates on San Quentin’s Death Row are innocent of their conviction, and I am one of them.
There are three levels of solitary confinement, the lightest is being restricted to your own cell and denied access to visitors, the telephone, and going out in the Yard with the others. The worst level is the Hole, down below the prison. In the Hole you are kept in the dark; there is no light except from a single bulb down the hall, not in your cell. There is hardly anything you can do. There is nothing to sit on, no mattress, only your blanket between you and the concrete floor. It’s cold in winter and stifling hot in summer. You are fed a patty twice a day totaling 1500 calories, with one meal once a week, to keep you alive. Weight loss is constant. 95% of the prisoners who stay in the hole, called Adjustment Center (AC) for 60 days or longer lose major weight, at least 25 pounds in six months. People have lost as much as 120 pounds. By law this extreme isolation is supposed to be limited to two weeks, but with all the possible petty infractions, they manage to keep it going on and on. Anything at all is used as an excuse to throw someone in solitary when they want that person there.
I was there for several years straight on the pretext that I refused to cut my hair. Many Indians believe in having long hair and in my tribe they only cut their long hair for spiritual and religious beliefs. However, there are other inmates who have long hair and are not in solitary. I have now cut my hair to keep out of solitary confinement, but they can easily use other reasons also. I have been in isolation a total of about 23 years out of my 36 years on Death Row, largely because the authorities fear my “inside” influence, and because I have refused to be molded or treated disrespectfully by the Administration.
The Hole is for the purpose of breaking your spirit and it works. It’s well known in prison that you come out of the Hole either stronger or you are broken. Some men go mad. The first tier on Death Row is lined with those that came into prison in a normal state of mind but have totally lost their mind from the isolation. They scream and throw feces at whoever goes by. It takes great strength of mind to endure such isolation for long periods. To be confined in darkness and isolation is inhuman and barbaric, and belongs to a bygone era when people were very primitive.
There was a Stanford Prison Experiment that showed that normal students and their principal investigator rapidly lost sight of reality and went to abusive extremes when they were in an artificial inmate-guard situation for only a few days. The experiment had to be halted earlier than intended. But in actual prisons there are set rules to follow, so excessive extremism is controlled. Stanford’s mistake was to not have set any guidelines. But it did show the very dangerous emotional effect of the dominance/punishment situation, and the Hole is just that.
Being poor I was given court appointed counsel who only dumped my case and appeal. Inside prison we call these lawyers dumpsters or dump trucks. They don’t bother to get your appeal to the court by the due date. Over the last 2 years I have had counsels forced upon me who have always against all my wishes and desires presented a distorted mental incapacity defense, never bothering to seek the truth or point out the facts of the case. In 35 years no court appointed counsel has ever asked questions or really investigated my case at all (click on Ineffective Counsel). After reading this, you could answer the question yourself--do you think that I received a fair trial, or a real appeal, in view of the following:
My trial lawyer Hugh Goodwin when asked by the Judge, “Is defense ready?” stated, “Yes, your Honor, defense rests.” Goodwin did not call any witness, he filed only five motions, and he never hired nor had an investigator in my case even though the court had a fund for me to pay for an investigator. Goodwin had my 1st degree capital murder trial for 1-1/2 years and he billed the courts only $15,900—yes, that little for a 1st degree capital case.
Trial lawyer Goodwin signed a declaration (2 of them) claiming that he dumped defendant Stankewitz. To see his declarations click on Trial Lawyer’s Confession.
Codefendant Billy Brown signed a declaration that he falsely testified against me and he was promised something for his false testimony (he received full immunity as you can read if you click on Witness Billy Brown). Billy Brown was allowed to testify that he was not given or promised anything for his testimony, whereas he received immunity. The US Supreme Court has just overturned a conviction on the basis of one of the accused having been given incentive to testify and become a witness against another defendant (Troy Davis, August 17, 2009).
Witness Jesus Marez testified falsely beginning with his name as it is not his birth name—he paid for the name at a swap meet. He also was subsequently given U.S. citizenship upon the request of the Fresno, Calif. District Attorney’s office. (The trial was in Fresno.) Jesus Marez was allowed to testify he received nothing for his testimony, whereas he actually received U.S. citizenship.
Three jurors withheld facts and lied during the jury selection process, which also violated my civil rights (click on Biased Jurors).
Jury panel was not told that my Gun test was negative, which proved I had not shot a gun within 24 hours of the crime. I was given two gun tests, neither admitted into the evidence.
I am Indian. The person I am accused of killing was white. On the first day of the trial right in front of the courthouse steps there was a Ku Klux Klan rally which influences jurors.
The very first day of Jurors placed into the Jury Assembly room I was taken fully wearing ankle leg cuffs and waist chains into the Jury Assembly Room standing in clear view in front of and watched by every prospective juror, as the clerk read out their names as they were all facing me. Trial Judge Krum stated this never happened because the bailiffs had no reason to take me into the Jury Assembly room. However, Jurors’ questionnaires prove I was there.
During my whole trial I was forced by Judge Krum to wear leg irons and waist chains and at times a plastic fully around my leg, so I was unable to bend my leg at all. This creates a very negative impression on the jury. Officers taking the stand falsely testified that I was causing a lot of trouble in jail custody and was violent. The judge ordered these officers to prove what they testified to, but the officers were unable to prove or produce any evidence to Judge Krum. I myself produced my only negative discipline report while in jail custody. This report was because I had two bed sheets on my bed and the rules said that I was only allowed one sheet. I asked Judge Krum how many sheets he had on his bed, and he said four. But even with this, Judge Krum ordered that my leg irons and waist chains be kept on me for the whole trial. Every time I moved sitting in the chair the leg irons or chains would make noise.
In view of this, do you feel that I received a fair trial? Now you know why I need your help to pay for a good lawyer.
There’s so much more proof, also. I mean, as of today, not one court or judge has ever held a hearing on any of the above facts. None of these three jurors have ever been called in front of a court or judge to question them about her/his lying at the jury selection process, and no court appointed counsel has ever pointed out this issue.
Sure, anyone could look or sound guilty if only one side of a story is being told in court. In my case in 32 years NO one has ever told my side, and more importantly, no court appointed counsel has ever challenged the prosecution’s false story, and that’s all I’ve asked.
Isn’t it a crime for a District Attorney to put a witness on the stand to testify knowing beforehand that such witness will be testifying falsely? Well, in my trial not only did the District Attorney put on such witnesses but once the witnesses testified falsely the District Attorney did not correct their false testimony. As an example, the District Attorney’s office gave co-defendant Billy Brown full immunity for him to testify against me and such Court Order was sitting right in front of Judge Krum, court-appointed Hugh Goodwin, and District Attorney Robertson, stating Billy Brown was given full immunity. In so doing the District Attorney not only violated my civil rights but he never corrected the witness’s perjured testimony that he clearly knew was incorrect. Appointed counsel never did either. And when I tried to verbally correct the witness’s false testimony, Judge Krum had me removed from the courtroom, which happened many times because no one would speak up in my defense, so I really had no choice but to try to speak up for myself.
For 36 years on Death Row I have never managed to receive my trial transcripts. Why? Because they know that I’d make copies of their wrongs and mail them to people like you, so you could see I’m speaking the truth.
Doesn’t the law read that if during the jury selection process a prospective juror withholds a relevant fact, then a reversal must be granted? Well, in my case not only were facts withheld but also the prospective juror lied about it. Yes, if I had known about these facts I would have kicked the juror(s) off plus I believe that if these jurors did not withhold these facts that the trial judge would have excused the juror also. Thus, this proves that that I should have had and still should be granted a full reversal.
You can read the decision and opinion by California Chief Justice George, about Lawyer Hugh Goodwin in the Jones v. California decision 1997. Troy Jones had Goodwin as his appointed lawyer at the same time as I did. After the Jones decision came down, why didn’t any of my appointed appeal lawyers ever file an emergency motion right back in front of Chief Justice George’s court based on his decision in the Jones case?
Another example of a court appointed lawyer forced upon me by Judge Ishii of Fresno: Lawyer Kathleen L. Hart had my appeal 12 years and did nothing. She had a due date to file to the U.S. Supreme Court, but instead of filing it she took a vacation and gave my appeal to her secretary to do and file, so it was not done at all, the due date missed, and because the due date was missed the U.S. Supreme Court rejected hearing my appeal.
So now with only what I’ve shared with you and these attached papers, do you feel that I received a fair trial? There’s so much more proof, but I only wanted to share this with you in hopes that somehow directly or indirectly you will help. I need your help.
As I have stated for 36 years, my side has never been told. I’ve always said that I’m innocent and only by and with the District Attorney’s fabrication and witnesses giving false testimony could I have been convicted for a murder that not only did I not commit but I was not even present at the murder.
I need a lawyer who is outside the Fresno Court’s control. This can be an opportunity for a lawyer to gain recognition for success in freeing a death row inmate who’s been on death row for all of 34 years.
If you wish to write, I would be happy to hear from you. If you wish to make a contribution for my legal defense, send a check to the address noted below. Anything at all will be appreciated more than you can imagine.
I close by saying I truly do thank you for your time reading this and may life always watch over you and keep you safe and blessed.
In a forever struggle,
Douglas Stankewitz, B97879
San Quentin State Prison
San Quentin, California 94974, USA
Checks or letterds can be sent to:
Stankewitz Legal Defense Fund
P.O. Box 334
Rio Dell, CA 95562
You can also email a question to:
Marilyn Parish, Chairperson,
Committee for the Legal Defense of Douglas Roy Stankewitz