Trial Delay to Study Death Penalty Denied

Times Staff Writer

A Superior Court judge Monday dismissed an unusual defense motion that would have delayed a murder trial to allow for a statewide survey to determine why San Bernardino County has the highest rate of death verdicts of any county in California.

But Alan E. Spears, the deputy public defender in the upcoming trial of Danny Floyd Williamson, who is accused of killing a man at Big Bear Lake on July 26, 1985, vowed to raise the issue in all his future murder cases "until I get the funding for the survey to find out what the answer is."

Spears had based his argument on state Department of Corrections statistics that show that of the 39 murder cases filed in the county between Aug. 11, 1977, and December, 1984, 14--or 36%--have resulted in death verdicts. That is by far the highest in all of California's 58 counties.

In the process, he angered local residents by suggesting they sit on "death prone" jury panels that make it hard for defendants in capital cases to receive a fair trial.

"This (argument) is academically very interesting," said Judge Donald A. Turner, but would be of no "benefit to this trial."

After the judge's ruling, Linda Meza, a jury consultant hired by Spears, conceded that her client may have pushed Turner "into a corner" by focusing only on jurors' attitudes when, in fact, there may be other factors behind the high rate of death verdicts here.

"What Spears was asking the court to do," Meza said, "was put San Bernardino County jurors on trial for their attitudes. It didn't want to do that."

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