Legal Delaying Action in Test of Death Penalty Charged

Times Staff Writer

Imposition of the death penalty is being delayed in part because defense lawyers are demanding that prosecutors produce large amounts of information that the defense bar may already possess, the state attorney general's office and Los Angeles County district attorney have charged.

Prosecutors in the two offices said they discovered that the state public defender in 1982 hired an outside consultant to study "most, if not all" of the information that defense lawyers are seeking from prosecutors in an effort to have the death penalty declared unconstitutional.

A Matter of Time

"They are trying to buy a lot of time," Deputy Dist. Atty. George Palmer said. "They don't want the death penalty ever carried out. One way to achieve that goal is to use as much time as possible in discovery."

Prosecutors say they have not kept track of the information being sought, and maintain that to gather it would take months and cost several hundred thousand dollars.

One of the defense lawyers, Eric S. Multhaup, declined to comment, except to say that the prosecutors' charges were "totally uncalled for" and "extremely misleading." And state Public Defender Frank Bell responded, "Even if this information existed, it is attorney work product (and thus confidential)."

Multhaup and other lawyers representing Death Row inmate Earl Lloyd Jackson are mounting the most concerted effort yet to have California's death penalty struck down as discriminatory, and thus unconstitutional.

They argue that juries are more willing to impose a death sentence--and prosecutors are more willing to seek death--if the victim is white, young and female, and if the defendant is a black man.

In an effort to prove that contention, Jackson's lawyers asked the state to provide names of all defendants charged, but not necessarily convicted, of a murder that could have resulted in a death verdict since Aug. 11, 1977, the day that capital punishment was reinstated in California. Once they have that information, they hope to have prosecutors produce details on the race, age and sex of each defendant and victim.

Retired Court of Appeal Justice Bernard Jefferson, acting under direction of the state Supreme Court, initially ordered the attorney general and Los Angeles County district attorney to produce the information.

But the judge agreed to reconsider the order after prosecutors said the request involved as many as 10,000 homicides. Jefferson is scheduled to hold a hearing on the matter today in Los Angeles.

Asking the judge to turn down the defense request, Palmer and Deputy Atty. Gen. Susan Frierson said in a document that Multhaup oversaw a study of cases that could have resulted in a death verdict when he worked for the state public defender's office.

Thus, the prosecutors said, Multhaup already had access to a "significant portion" of the information he wants prosecutors to produce.

Payment for Study

State controller records show that the state public defender paid a San Francisco consulting firm $13,500 in 1982 and 1983 to analyze homicide cases to determine whether the death penalty was being imposed in an arbitrary, discriminatory or disproportionate manner. The study was done as part of the defense of another Death Row inmate, Robert Alton Harris.

Multhaup left the public defender's office to work for the California Appellate Project, which was set up specifically to defend Death Row inmates. The group was founded by the Legislature, Judicial Council and State Bar to handle Death Row cases after the Deukmejian Administration reduced the public defender's budget by half.

Jackson is one of three convicted murderers whose death sentences have been affirmed by the state Supreme Court. He was sentenced to death for the 1977 murders of two elderly white women in Long Beach, Gladys Ott and Vernita Curtis. His case was affirmed by the state Supreme Court in 1980.

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