Waldon Jury Ponders Life-or-Death Issue : Sentence: Defendant makes his own appeal in penalty phase of trial that convicted him in three murders. Prosecutor asks for death.
If the jurors who convicted Billy Ray Waldon of three murders decide that he should be executed for his crimes, he will not hold it against them, the 39-year-old former Navy electronics expert told them Tuesday.
“I very much hope you don’t execute me in the gas chamber for my efforts towards peaceful rights,” Waldon said during brief closing arguments in the penalty phase of his trial in San Diego Superior Court. “But, if you do, I won’t hold it against you. Wiser people than I have told me that my death would motivate my supporters in ways that I could never motivate them in my life.”
Last month, after a 4 1/2-month trial, Waldon was convicted of three first-degree murder charges and 21 other crimes, including rape and robbery, many of which occurred during a two-week period in December, 1985.
Despite the convictions, however, Waldon continued to portray himself throughout the trial’s penalty phase as the innocent victim of what he described as a government sting operation, a stingy judge, a lying prosecutor and “fraud-mongering” advisory defense attorneys. Waldon, who has no formal legal training, represented himself in the capital trial.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Mike Carpenter, who prosecuted the case, gave a different portrayal of Waldon in his closing arguments Tuesday.
Carpenter described Waldon as a smart, capable father of two who “had the choice between good and evil, and he chose evil.” Having chosen that path, Carpenter said, Waldon became a master manipulator who felt no remorse for the crimes he committed until he was caught.
“Billy Ray Waldon has a total disregard for the rights of other people. You’ve seen it here in court--a total lack of respect for the rights of anyone else as he indulges in whatever he wants to do,” Carpenter said, referring to Waldon’s often lengthy and repetitive cross-examination of witnesses.
Carpenter added later: “I doubt that a man has ever more clearly demonstrated why he deserves the death penalty than Mr. Waldon.”
The jury will begin deliberating today. It must choose between the death penalty and life in prison without possibility of parole.
During the penalty phase of the trial, Waldon, who calls himself by the Cherokee Indian name of Nvwtohiyada Idehesdi Sequoyah, called 14 witnesses to attest to his gentle character, his gift for languages and his involvement with humanitarian organizations, including one called the World Humanitarian Church.
“I am the type of person who would and has grieved for those people who were killed and the injuries that remain, even though I wasn’t the person who committed those crimes. I grieved anyway,” he told the jury Tuesday, adding later, “I hope that enough defense witnesses came here . . . to convince you that, for almost all my life, I have supported certain things which I believe to be basic, fundamental and inalienable rights.”
But Carpenter described Waldon’s crimes as “remarkable” in their brutality. Earlier, he had introduced evidence he said linked Waldon to three assaults in Oklahoma in November, 1985, one month before Waldon arrived in San Diego. In those incidents, Carpenter alleged, Waldon shot and attempted to rob four people, wounding three and killing one.
Carpenter also presented evidence to show that the .25-caliber shells recovered from those crimes were fired from the same gun as was used in the San Diego County incidents of which Waldon has been convicted. He asked the jury to consider the Oklahoma incidents as they weigh the appropriate sentence for the three San Diego murders.
Waldon has been convicted of shooting Dawn Ellerman on the evening of Dec. 7, 1985, in her Del Mar Heights home. He was also convicted of crushing the skulls of her two shih tzu dogs, robbing her and setting her home on fire to conceal his crimes. The ensuing blaze killed Ellerman’s teen-age daughter, Erin.
Waldon was also convicted of a string of crimes committed during the following two weeks. He robbed several San Diegans and twice raped a woman in Pacific Beach. Then, on Dec. 20, Waldon was fleeing the scene of a purse-snatching when he encountered two men in University Heights and opened fire. Charles G. Wells, 59, was killed and John Copeland, then 36, was wounded.
On Tuesday--six years to the day since Waldon raped the Pacific Beach woman--the woman appeared in court for the first time since her testimony in July, when she identified Waldon as her attacker. Near her sat Alice Wells, the widow of Charles Wells, with her son, Steve.
Repeatedly Tuesday, Waldon attempted to tell the jury about alleged misconduct on the part of the prosecutor--a line of argument that Superior Court Judge David M. Gill told the jury to disregard. Apparently in response, Waldon made Gill’s ruling the focus of his final words to the jury.
“I hope and pray very much that, before you do (decide), you pull out a thing called the Constitution and especially look at amendment one, which is freedom of speech,” he said. “And ask yourself if I had that when I most needed it today.”
Carpenter told the jurors that he knew their decision was a difficult one, but he urged them to have the courage to impose the ultimate penalty.
“In the battle between good and evil, in the battle between civility and anarchy, in the battle between order and lawlessness, sometimes it’s absolutely essential that we take sides . . . (and) that we enter the battle and join the fray,” he said. “I must ask you people to enter that battle and take a stand to condemn the behavior of Billy Ray Waldon.”
Carpenter reminded the jurors that they will have to live with their decision.
“Would you feel comfortable in saying he got what he deserved in life (in prison) without the possibility of parole? Just ask yourself that,” he said. “There are times to do what must be done. If not now, then when? If not Billy Ray Waldon, then who?”