Killer Held on Death Row Since ’81 Is Executed


Darrell Keith Rich, who raped and murdered four women and girls during a two-month rampage in the summer of 1978, was put to death with a lethal mixture of drugs shortly after midnight today.

Rich, 45, who was part Cherokee and adopted the name Young Elk in prison, was pronounced dead at 12:13 a.m.

The execution took place after a day of last-minute legal wrangling over whether Rich should have been allowed to take part in a sweat lodge purification ceremony during his final hours. The U.S. Supreme Court turned down his appeal at about 9 p.m. Several surviving victims of other sexual attacks by Rich came to San Quentin Tuesday night along with relatives of the dead. Six of them viewed the execution along with four of Rich’s lawyers and spiritual advisors.


Rich, who lived most of his adult life on death row, spent much of Tuesday with members of his legal team and several relatives, sipping hot broth, papaya juice and Gatorade. His spiritual advisors visited him, and his lawyers petitioned courts and even President Clinton to allow him to take part in the sweat lodge ceremony.

Rich filed a lawsuit last week complaining that San Quentin officials were denying him his religious rights by barring him from participating in the Native American ritual before his execution.

The prison officials cited safety concerns in rejecting the request. The San Quentin warden bars condemned inmates from leaving their death row housing to use the lodge, which is elsewhere on the grounds of the prison.

A federal district judge denied the legal action Monday and the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a similar denial Tuesday. . . On Tuesday evening, the lawyers turned to the U.S. Supreme Court, which also refused the condemned man’s request.

Every California state prison has a sweat lodge made of willow poles in which Native American inmates can go through purification ceremonies. Water is poured on hot rocks to heat the lodge, and participants are led in prayer and song over a period of several hours.

“This is a matter of significant importance to everyone who practices religion,” Rich’s attorney, James S. Thomson, said Tuesday afternoon, “because it is the state saying how you can practice your religion and what religion you can practice.”


Outside the prison, about 200 anti-death penalty protesters, including 20 Native Americans, had gathered late in the night.

Fred Short, 53, a Chippewa Indian who lives in Sacramento, was attending his first death penalty protest. “I should have been out here a long time ago,” said Short, who carried a banner with eagle feathers. “Our message has always been that all life is sacred.”

Several of the Native Americans burned sage and sang spiritual songs. “These songs we’re singing are going to let him know where he’s going--to the spiritual world,” Short said.

Since the state resumed executions in 1992, seven other prisoners have been put to death in California. There are 553 men and 11 women awaiting the same fate on the state’s death row, the most populous in the nation.

Fewer than two dozen condemned inmates have spent more time there than Rich, who arrived in 1981 at age 25. He had committed a series of crimes a federal appeals judge last year described as “almost unimaginably brutal.”

Between June and August of 1978, Rich attacked nine women and girls in the Redding area, raping eight of them and killing four.


The youngest was Annette Selix, 11, whom he threw off a 105-foot-high bridge near Shasta Lake. He beat Annette Edwards, 19, and Pam Moore, 17, to death with rocks.

Rich also shot Linda Slavik, a 28-year-old mother, twice in the head and later bragged to friends that in her final moments, she had pleaded, “Don’t do it, don’t do it.”

Rich confessed to the murders after failing a polygraph test, but he contended at his three-month trial in 1980 that he was legally insane at the time of the crimes.

He was nonetheless convicted and sentenced to death.

His conviction was upheld by state and federal courts. As his execution date approached, he attracted far less sympathy than Vietnam veteran Manuel Babbitt, the last person put to death in California, in 1999. Babbitt, who killed one woman, said he committed the crime while having a wartime flashback.

Death penalty activists and Rich’s attorneys were the only ones to plead for his life in recent months. A San Quentin spokesman said that even Rich’s fellow death row inmates were shunning him because of the nature of his crimes.

Relatives of his victims called him an animal, and complained that his appeals had dragged on far too long. The state Board of Prison Terms unanimously recommended that Rich be denied clemency.


Gov. Gray Davis, in refusing to spare Rich’s life, called him “a ruthless predator who terrorized the entire Shasta County community during the summer of 1978.”

The governor, in his eight-page clemency decision issued Friday, detailed how Rich pushed Edwards down a slope as she walked to watch Fourth of July fireworks, and after raping her, hit her so hard with a rock that her jawbone was forced into her brain.

He wrote of how Rich kidnapped Slavik from a Chico bar and then showed her the nude body of a previous victim, Moore, at a Shasta County dump before shooting Slavik in the mouth.

Davis also recounted how Selix’s family had known Rich for years in the little town of Cottonwood, where they lived; how Rich abducted her as she walked home from the grocery store and put the two tubs of margarine she had purchased in his refrigerator.

Criminal defense attorney Thomson, who represented Rich for a decade, countered that his client was not “the worst of the worst” who deserved death, but instead had been a model inmate.

“Young Elk is truly remorseful for his actions,” Thomson wrote in a weekend appeal to Davis to reconsider clemency. “While he cannot explain them, they haunt him each and every day. . . . That Young Elk adheres to the rules and presents no threat to staff or fellow inmates does differentiate him from a significant portion of the prison population.”


Rich’s attorneys spent the last few days trying to gain permission for their client to take part in the purification ceremony.

In addition to citing security concerns, prison authorities contended that sweat lodge ceremonies are not a common Cherokee practice. One of Rich’s spiritual advisors, Lenny Foster, countered that all Native Americans have the right to engage in such rituals.

“The sweat lodge is an ancient ceremonial practice for Native Americans throughout North America,” Foster said. “The sweat lodge certainly does not belong to one particular tribe.”

Rich was the 508th person to be executed by the state since it took over the function from county sheriffs in 1893. More than 300 people have been hanged and nearly 200 have died in the gas chamber. In 1996, serial killer William Bonin was the first person in California to die by lethal injection.

Rich, strapped into a modified dentist chair in the execution chamber, was given a series of six injections of saline solutions alternating with drugs to sedate him, slow his breathing and, finally, induce a fatal heart attack.

Times staff writer Eric Bailey and correspondent Queena Sook Kim contributed to this story.