SAN QUENTIN — A drifter who killed an 81-year-old woman and then fixed himself a meal in her kitchen was scheduled to be executed early Tuesday.
In the hours leading up to Stephen Wayne Anderson’s scheduled death by lethal injection, his attorneys waged a last-ditch battle for the life of the man they said had redeemed himself on death row, learning Latin and writing poems of repentance.
Anderson’s defenders had asked Gov. Gray Davis to spare his life, saying he didn’t get a fair trial because of a bad lawyer and noting that some family members of the victim do not support the death penalty.
Expecting clemency to be denied – the last California governor to grant clemency was Ronald Reagan in 1967 – the defense team had waged a separate legal battle arguing that Davis’ tough-on-crime platform locked him into an intractable position on clemency.
That effort was turned down by all the courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, although on Monday Anderson’s lawyers tried again, filing a new appeal claiming Davis’ 34-page opinion showed his bias.
U.S. District Judge Vaughan Walker held a brief hearing on that appeal Monday afternoon but rejected the arguments, saying Davis is entitled to review the record and draw his own conclusions. Anderson’s lawyers said they would appeal the ruling to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Anderson, 48, was sentenced to die for killing Elizabeth Lyman in the early hours of Memorial Day 1980.
Prosecutors said Anderson, who had escaped from a Utah prison some months earlier, broke into Lyman’s house in Bloomington, a small town in Southern California, and shot her in the face as she sat up in bed. Anderson ransacked the house for about $100 and then made himself at home, watching television in her living room and making himself a meal of noodles, according to court records.
Prosecutors portrayed Anderson as a callous killer with a long criminal record that included confessions to two killings in Utah, the stabbing of a fellow inmate and the contract killing of another man. Anderson also confessed to six contract hits in Nevada, although it wasn’t clear those killings really happened.
His defenders gave a different version. They said Anderson was shaped by a brutal upbringing as the son of an alcoholic, abusive father and mentally unstable mother. They said he got a terrible defense from his court-appointed trial lawyer, who told the jury his client was guilty and didn’t bring out the mitigating circumstances of his harsh childhood.
Two other clients of Anderson’s trial lawyer, the late S. Donald Ames, were overturned because of incompetent representation. But the courts ruled Anderson got an adequate defense.
Anderson’s new lawyers also said the Utah confessions, which were used to bolster the death penalty case against him, should have been suppressed because officials held him too long before he was arraigned.
Beyond the legal issues, Anderson’s supporters said his writings showed a spirit worth saving.
In prison, Anderson had written a play, started a novel, and published a number of poems his supporters said documented his sorrow over what happened in the past and what was to come.
“I miss leaves whispering/softly through the evening haze;/little conversations upon the breeze,/rustling giggles and hush, child, hush,” begins one poem, called “I Miss Them All.”
In 1987, he wrote what amounted to his own epitaph in a poem called, “For My Memory.”
It ends, “So light a chapel’s candle by the sea — hold it out as a guide for my memory.”
On the Net:
California Department of Corrections http://www.cdc.state.ca.us/