Court Under Fire Again : Voiding of Killer’s Death Sentence Hit
A Camarillo woman denounced the state Supreme Court Friday for overturning the death sentence of her grandchild’s murderer but maintained that she is “optimistic” that eventually he will be executed and that she will witness his final moments in the gas chamber.
“I personally have always been optimistic that Theodore Frank would die,” said Patti Linebaugh, 47, whose 2-year-old granddaughter was murdered by Frank in 1978. “I believe he will die, not on the streets of California, but in the prison. I intend to continue every effort that I can possibly extend to see Theodore Frank die.”
Frank’s sentence was one of four death verdicts overturned by the Supreme Court on Thursday, sparking renewed criticism of the court from conservatives, law enforcement and anti-crime activists.
In one of the four cases, the court overturned the conviction, as well as the sentence. Since 1977, when capital punishment was reinstated in California, the court has reversed 33 capital cases and affirmed three. There have been no executions in the state in that time, however, because the three affirmed cases are still being appealed through the federal courts.
Frank, who had a 20-year history of child molestation, was convicted of kidnaping Amy Sue Seitz from the Camarillo home of her baby sitter and raping and torturing her with pliers before strangling her to death.
“Don’t I have the right to have a personal vendetta?” asked the child’s grandmother, speaking at a Los Angeles news conference, where she was joined by prosecutors in the case.
Ventura County Senior Deputy Dist. Atty Pete Kossoris predicted that the penalty phase of Frank’s trial will be retried in Orange County in 60 to 90 days. The case was tried there initially because of extensive publicity in Ventura County. Kossoris said he is confident that Frank will once again be sentenced to death.
Linebaugh vowed to wage a petition drive to protest the court’s action. She is one of the leaders of a campaign to unseat Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird and Justices Cruz Reynoso and Joseph Grodin in November, 1986, when they come up for confirmation election. Linebaugh also is founder of an organization to strengthen laws against child molestation.
By a 4-2 margin, the court said a new penalty trial was necessary in the Frank case because evidence considered by the jury in its death verdict was obtained under an overly broad search warrant. The evidence included diaries Frank wrote two to three years before the murder that described his desires to molest children and “to be sadistic.” Frank made the entries while at Atascadero State Hospital, which released him as cured after he was confined for previous child molestations.
Rose and Justices Stanley Mosk, Reynoso and Allen Broussard favored overturning the sentence, with Justices Otto Kaus and Grodin in dissent. Justice Malcolm Lucas was not on the court when the case was argued.
Bird, in a separate opinion, said she would have reversed both the penalty and the conviction. She said Frank was denied a fair trial because people philosophically opposed to capital punishment were excluded from the jury.
Linebaugh said she was not surprised by the court’s action. She complained that some of the justices manipulate law to prevent capital punishment because of their personal opposition and criticized them for “preferential treatment of criminals over law-abiding citizens.”
She said Amy Sue’s mother, Sheryl Roberts, 27, divorced the child’s father and is remarried and living out of state. Roberts now has twin boys and was expected Friday to give birth to another child. Linebaugh said her daughter does not yet know that Frank’s sentence was overturned.
Davis Also Critical
“I’m the one who has to make the phone call to tell her,” Linebaugh said.
State Sen. Ed Davis (R-Valencia) joined the criticism of the court rulings. In a breakfast meeting with reporters Friday, Davis called the Frank ruling “a classic case of the continuing, incredible misinterpretation of the search-and-seizure amendment.”
“What we are going to have to do is change the Constitution of California to ban the state Supreme Court from going beyond the dictates of the U.S. Supreme Court in evidential matters,” Davis said.
Gov. George Deukmejian called it “unfortunate” that the state Supreme Court “uses every possible means of thwarting” the implementation of California’s death penalty law. At a brief press conference before a $1,000-a-plate Century Plaza dinner to raise funds for his reelection campaign, the governor pointed out that the voters have approved the death penalty twice and that jurors in the particular cases voted to impose death.
‘Many . . . Outraged’
He said he thinks “a great many Californians are outraged” by the decision to overrule the four death sentences and noted that they will have a chance to express themselves in November, 1986, when Bird, Reynoso and Mosk, as well as Lucas and Grodin, must win voter approval to retain their seats.
However, the governor said he will not become personally involved in the campaign against Bird.
Times staff writer Richard C. Paddock contributed to this article.