A man who was twice sentenced to death for killing a Garden Grove police officer nearly 40 years ago died at San Quentin State Prison on Sunday, authorities said.
John George Brown, 71, was found unconscious in his cell shortly after 6:15 p.m., according to a news release from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Prison staff tried to resuscitate him, but he was pronounced dead about 6:45 p.m., officials said.
Brown was convicted of shooting and killing Officer Donald Reed, 27, in a Garden Grove bar on June 7, 1980, as Reed and three other officers tried to arrest Brown on drug and assault warrants. The shooting, which news accounts described as one of the bloodiest in Orange County history, wounded four other people — two officers and two bar patrons.
A jury found Brown guilty of first-degree murder and related offenses, and he was sentenced to death in 1982.
More than a decade later, in 1998, the California Supreme Court ordered that Brown’s conviction be downgraded to second-degree murder or that he be given a new trial because evidence had not been forwarded to his defense team during the original trial.
At issue was a preliminary blood test performed by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department that showed Brown may have taken PCP the night of the shooting. A more thorough test did not detect any drugs, authorities said.
Brown’s defense attorneys were told of the final test, but not of the first one. Attorneys who appealed his conviction argued that the first test could help sway jurors into believing that the murder was not premeditated.
The Orange County district attorney’s office elected to retry the case.
More than 850 people have been sentenced to death in California since 1978, when the state reinstated capital punishment.
Since then, 80 condemned inmates have died from natural causes, 26 have committed suicide, 12 have died from other causes and six — including Brown — are pending a cause of death, according to figures provided by corrections officials. Only 13 inmates have been executed.
In March, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a moratorium on the death penalty, granting temporary reprieves to all of the state’s condemned inmates.
With 734 inmates, California’s death row is the nation’s largest.