Death row inmate Gilbert Rubio dies in prison

Gilbert Rubio, 55, was discovered unresponsive in his cell in the San Quentin State Prison on Thursday.
(California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation)

Nearly 16 years after Gilbert Rubio was sentenced to death for killing a popular high school vice principal in Downey, the condemned man died Thursday at San Quentin State Prison.

Rubio, 55, was discovered unresponsive in his one-person cell during a security check and pronounced dead in a medical treatment area at 6:34 a.m., according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The Marin County Sheriff’s Office Coroner Division will determine Rubio’s cause of death.

A Los Angeles County jury sentenced Rubio to death on Sept. 20, 2000, for the murder of George “Skipper” Blackwell. The 46-year-old was a popular administrator at Earl Warren High School in Downey who had devoted his life to education. Known for his gentle manner with troubled teens, Blackwell avoided suspensions and preferred talks with parents.

“George would have gone a long way in education,” said the school’s then-principal, Earl Haugen, at the time.


Blackwell was sitting in his newly purchased home near the Long Beach waterfront on the evening of Jan. 12, 1998, when Monica Chavez, the high school’s night custodian, knocked on the door, authorities said. Blackwell knew Chavez and Rubio because he had given them work at his home.

Chavez, accompanied by another man and Rubio, who was Chavez’s boyfriend at the time, entered the home and forced Blackwell to write a $2,000 check, prosecutors said. They then robbed him and bound him with duct tape and a dog chain.

Chavez and the other man, Alex Vega, left Rubio alone with Blackwell as they went to cash the check. Rubio then shot and killed Blackwell, authorities said.

Neighbors reported hearing a series of shots before Blackwell was found.

At the time, Rubio, a former Los Angeles resident, was a parolee who had recently finished a three-year prison term for possessing cocaine. Blackwell didn’t know about Rubio’s long criminal history and that he spent time in and out of prison for a decade, authorities said.

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Soon after Blackwell’s killing, Long Beach police arrested Rubio. He was convicted of first-degree murder with the use of a firearm with the special circumstance of robbery and burglary.

Chavez, 59, was sentenced on March 30, 2000, on a charge of first-degree murder with the use of a firearm. She has been serving a life-without-parole sentence and is incarcerated at the Central California Women’s Facility.

Vega, 61, was sentenced on March 24, 2000, on a charge of first-degree murder with the use of a firearm. He is serving a life-without-parole sentence at the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison in Corcoran.

Since California reinstated capital punishment in 1978, 13 inmates have been executed, 70 have died of natural causes and 25 have committed suicide. There are now 747 inmates on California’s death row.

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9:35 a.m.: This article has been updated with information that Rubio died in a prison medical treatment area.

This article was originally published June 17 at 11:47 a.m.