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Paul V. Coates--Confidential File

August 31, 2007 |  7:37 pm

Aug. 30, 1957

Paul_coates By sundown today, condemned killer Billy Rupp may find his life saved by the same jurors who, five years ago, ordered his death.

In a move unprecedented in penal annals, five of the Rupp case jury members have signed affidavits in a last-ditch attempt to spare him from San Quentin's gas chamber next Friday.

Four more are expected to join them by nightfall.

Their affidavits state:

"I would not have voted for the death penalty had it been known to me that there was a method whereby William Francis Rupp could be incarcerated for life without possibility of parole."

The statements are to be given to Gov. Goodwin Knight, the last man between the 23-year-old Yorba Linda beekeeper and death.

The appeal of the jurors is not one outlined in the state law books.

It is, rather, a moral plea by persons who didn't want Rupp, the slayer of Ruby Ann Payne, 15-year-old babysitter, to walk the streets of society again, but who were offered no choice other than a death verdict to prevent him from doing so.

California statutes do not permit a jury to sentence a person to life imprisonment with no possibility of parole.

1952_0809_payne So, without this choice, the eight women and four men who heard Rupp's case took the only course they felt would protect society.

And, in August of 1952, they found him guilty of first-degree murder. Their silent, automatic verdict was death.

At the time, Rupp was declared legally sane.

But testimony by private psychiatrists and physicians that the youth was organically and mentally deranged was not allowed into the court record because of the wide breech between legal and medical definitions of insanity.

Six time since his first execution date was set, Rupp has won stays on appeals through the courts. One of them came only 15 minutes before he was due to die.

But one by one, all avenues of appeal were blocked off.

His final chance--a petition for a writ of certiorari before the U.S. Supreme Court--is expected to be turned down within a few days.

It leaves only Gov. Knight between Billy Rupp and death.

And it was this realization which, just two days ago, sparked a dramatic search for the 12 jurors who five years ago doomed an 18-year-old boy with a brain damaged in infancy to death.

The search was started by Santa Ana attorneys George Chula and James C. Monroe, two of the four volunteer defense lawyers now working the case.

With the aid of Pat Michaels, news editor of the Santa Ana Radio Station KWIZ, they located nearly all of the jurors. Michaels put out hourly appeals for the jurors to contact the attorneys.

Then Chula, with his firm's special investigator, Jim Burton, talked to those contacted.

"Once we had explained the situation," Chula told me, "the jurors were more than happy to sign the affidavits."

Among the first to sign was Mrs. Lucille Lanford of Santa Ana, who five years ago held out against a death verdict for 28 1/2 hours before giving in "to fatigue and other pressures."

"At the time," she told Chula yesterday, "I believed that in certain cases the death penalty was all right. With Rupp, our choice was either to kill him or leave it to chance that he might be turned free again in the future.

"But now," she added, "this whole case has me so mixed up, I don't think I even believe in capital punishment any more."

Juror Thomas O'Brien of Buena Park stated:

"I'm doing it purely in the interests of justice. I hope it will do some good."

1952_0813_rupp


Chula, who interrupted his vacation in the East to return to the case, stated that all of the former jurors who signed affidavits said they knew that Rupp, discharged from a mental institution at the age of 14, was "not normal."

It's something that psychiatrists, physicians and the boy's own father, William Francis Rupp Sr., had insisted long before the boy committed his almost inevitable crime.

Dr. Samuel Marcus, an L.A. psychiatrist called in to treat the boy when he was 14, had predicted that Rupp, if not taken out of society, would commit a major crime.


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