Would Have Kept Ax Rapist in Jail for Life--Deukmejian

Times Sacramento Bureau Chief

Gov. George Deukmejian said Wednesday that if it were totally up to him, paroled ax-wielding rapist Lawrence Singleton would spend the rest of his life in prison, and he asserted that the state should have the ability to keep such convicts behind bars longer.

However, he added, the law is the law, and when an inmate such as Singleton is legally freed from prison, local governments and courts should not be able to block his release into their communities.

Superior courts in San Francisco and Contra Costa County, acting at the requests of local officials, have in recent days prevented Singleton from setting up residence in their communities. The state, asserting that its hands were tied legally, released Singleton from prison Saturday.

On Wednesday, Singleton, 59, was still in the protective custody of parole officers, and state officials were continuing their search for a place to free him permanently. Corrections officials had planned to keep him for a day or so at a hotel just outside Redwood City, 25 miles south of San Francisco. That plan was scrapped when reporters from a local paper learned of it, and local politicians spoke out against any effort to permanently place Singleton in San Mateo County.


Hustled Away

Singleton was hustled out of the Redwood City area Wednesday afternoon and taken to another as-yet-undisclosed location.

Deukmejian commented for the first time in depth on the Singleton case during a Capitol press conference that lasted nearly an hour. Singleton spent less than eight years in prison for raping and chopping off the forearms of Mary Vincent, a runaway teen-age hitchhiker, and leaving her for dead in a Stanislaus County culvert in 1978.

He was sentenced to 14 years in the penitentiary, but his time behind bars was reduced for prison work and good behavior.

Asked if he believed that Singleton’s punishment fit his crime, Deukmejian said: “As far as I’m concerned, I would personally have felt that based upon what he did, he probably should have remained in prison the rest of his life. But the case was tried before a judge and a jury under the laws that existed at that time.”

No Alternative

Deukmejian noted that under provisions of the so-called determinate-sentencing law in effect when Singleton was convicted in 1979, the state had no alternative but to release him when it did.

“In cases like that, I think it is most unfortunate,” the governor said.


Deukmejian, a former state attorney general, said he does not favor returning to the old indeterminate-sentencing system, under which felons received only unspecified sentences after being convicted. But he said the state should regain “a little more flexibility . . . with respect to some individuals who have committed such heinous crimes” as Singleton’s.

The governor noted that the Legislature has increased penalties for many crimes since Singleton was sentenced, including those he committed.

Singleton was convicted of attempted murder, mayhem and four counts of sexual assault, including forcible rape, sodomy and oral copulation. Corrections Department spokesman Robert Gore said that someone convicted of those crimes today would be sentenced to more than 30 years in prison. Additionally, he said, the convict upon being freed from prison would be placed on three years’ probation, instead of just the one year facing Singleton.

“He’ll be kept under very close parole supervision,” Deukmejian said, “and if there is any indication whatsoever that he is violating any of the conditions of parole, then, of course, the authorities will immediately return him to prison.”


Under terms of Singleton’s parole, he cannot drink alcohol, must stay indoors from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., attend group therapy sessions weekly and be subject to unannounced searches and random drug and alcohol tests. Singleton, an alcoholic, was in a drunken rage when he attacked Vincent.

Several officials, including San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein, voiced concerns about public safety in turning to the courts to block Singleton’s release into their communities. Deukmejian said he agreed generally with their concerns. But he asserted that local governments should not be able to veto state decisions about where to release a paroled convict.

“I just don’t think that would be a feasible solution,” he said.

On other subjects at his press conference, Deukmejian:


- Denounced trade legislation sponsored by Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), which was passed Wednesday by the House of Representatives, as “anti-consumer” and “inflationary.” Under the Gephardt proposal, countries with “excess and unwarranted” trade surpluses with the United States would be subject to stiff presidential sanctions.

“It would impair the President’s ability to resolve trade problems,” the Republican governor said. “Such a policy will drive up prices. . . . It could cost us markets and jobs if our trading partners were to respond in kind.”

- Announced he signed a $215.2-million deficiency bill to cover unanticipated costs of the state’s $5-billion Medi-Cal program. Deukmejian said that the legislation demonstrated the urgent need for reforming the program, which provides health care for the poor.

- Said he would sign any legislation that prohibits political candidates from transferring contributions that they receive to other candidates. This is now common practice in the Legislature, where Assembly and Senate leaders raise large chunks of money to hand over to political allies.


But the governor said he still opposes all forms of public financing of campaigns, even for presidential races. Democrats favor public financing.