State and federal courts have overturned three California death sentences in a span of two weeks from late June to mid-July 2022. Death-row prisoners Richard Clark, Michael Bramit, and Andrew Lancaster
were all granted relief on claims related to defense counsel’s
inadequate performance or jury-related issues. Clark and Bramit
will receive new penalty-phase trials.
Andrew Lancaster was sentenced to death in Los Angeles County in 1998.
After accepting a stipulation between Lancaster’s counsel and the
Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office that Lancaster had been
provided ineffective assistance in the penalty phase of his
capital trial, a Los Angeles County trial court on July 1, 2022 vacated Lancaster’s death sentence.
On July 14, 2022, a federal district court, citing juror misconduct, reversed the death sentence imposed on Richard Clark in Santa Clara County in 1987.
Judge William H. Orrick of the U.S. District Court for the Northern
District of California found that a juror in Clark’s case had “consulted
with a religious figure about the propriety of voting for the
death penalty” before deciding to vote for death, in violation of
the juror’s oath to decide the case based solely on the evidence
presented at trial.
A Riverside County trial judge on June 30, 2022 reversed the death sentence imposed on Michael Bramit in his 1997 capital murder trial. In a 93-page
opinion, Superior Court Judge Stephen J. Gallon held that Bramit’s
trial counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate and
present mitigating evidence and for numerous failures to question
jurors about their inability to consider evidence for life. Judge
Gallon wrote that Bramit’s attorney had provided “constitutionally ineffective assistance … during jury selection and the penalty phase.”