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Paul V. Coates--Confidential File

September 18, 2007 |  6:40 pm

Sept. 18, 1957

Paul_coates There are times when justice gets in its own way.

By trying to hustle along a little too fast, it trips over its own ethical skirts.

And a living example of what can happen when it does came into town last night. He was tall and gaunt and rather ugly, and his prison pallor contradicted the jaunty cut of his gray flannel suit.

His name--if you're not aware by now--is Caryl Chessman.

His residence for the last nine years has been San Quentin's Death Row.

Half a dozen times, dates for his extermination have been set.

But so far, because justice was in an apparent hurry to deal him the worst, he has outlived some 70 fellow death row inmates, plus the warden with whom he was in constant strife.

Chessman is here with a claim against justice.

It was, recently, a good enough claim to cause the U.S. Supreme Court to overrule our state and district courts' rejections of his latest appeal for a new trial.

1957_0918_ads Since his confinement, Chessman--a warped but plainly brilliant man--has managed to dig up some startling charges about events which followed his trial and conviction.

The court reporter who took the transcript died during the trial.

His notes, according to later testimony, were considered illegible by five other court reporters asked to turn them into final transcript.

But then there appeared a man who said he could transcribe them.

His name was Stanley Fraser.

He was given the job and eventually he produced a final transcript.

This, naturally, was important to Chessman. He needed it as a basis for appeals.

But on reading it, he felt that it was inaccurate.

From death row, he began an astonishing investigation.

First, he found, Stanley Fraser was a relative of J. Miller Leavy, prosecutor in the case. He was Leavy's wife's uncle.

Then he alleges that he dug up a police record on Fraser which included drunk arrests stringing from July 1948 to February 1951.

Attorney George Davis, representing Chessman, called trial Judge Charles W. Fricke to the stand at a Marin County hearing last year.

Fricke stated that he had no knowledge of any relationship between Leavy, the prosecutor, and Fraser.

In his latest book, "The Face of Justice" (to be released this week), Chessman makes further charges.

He alleges that Fraser and Leavy held several meetings on the transcript. He charges that the pair visited two of the prosecution's top witnesses for other conferences.

He says that Fraser received three times the normal fee for his work.

If it's all true, it doesn't add up to a very fair shake for a man who is doomed without a complete and accurate transcript.

Caryl Chessman is possibly the most widely detested criminal in California history.

He's not only hated for the horrible nature of his crimes, but for the smug, self-assured unrepentant attitude he has maintained over the last nine years.

That same attitude was apparent when I saw him at County Jail yesterday.

He suffers from a chronic sneer aimed at all of society.

Chessman is a weird paradox--a literate, intelligent man, capable of vicious criminal acts.

However, no matter what his attitudes or his crimes, any man is entitled to due process of law.

If he hasn't been getting it, and the U.S. Supreme Court has indicated that to be true, he should.