At 9 p.m. Thursday, Albert Greenwood Brown is scheduled to be executed at San Quentin State Prison in Marin County.
His request to stop the execution has been blocked, and unless a last-minute miracle occurs, the 56-year-old who raped and murdered a 15-year-old in 1980 will be put to death by lethal injection.
As of Sept. 3, there are 708 men on San Quentin's death row. Five years ago a federal judge stopped all executions in the state until prison officials installed adequate safeguards and procedures. Now executions are scheduled to resume.
Three of those men have Merced County ties. But whether they'll ever be executed is a long shot.
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Probably the most well-known of those men is Merced native Cary Stayner. Brother of Steven Stayner, who was kidnapped from a Merced street at the age of 7 in 1972 and who escaped from his kidnapper seven years later, Cary Stayner, now 49, was convicted of murdering three women in Yosemite in February of 1999: Carole Sund, her daughter Julie Sund, and their traveling companion Silvina Pelosso. In July of 1999, he killed Yosemite National Institute employee Joie Armstrong. He was sentenced to death for the murders in 2002.
Albert Ruiz was sentenced to death in 2003 for the 1998 shooting of Merced Liquor and Grocery Store owner Abdo Muhammed. Ruiz shot the owner twice in the head at close range while robbing the store, then shot Antonio Cruz, a 74-year-old customer, in the head.
In 2007, a Colusa County jury sentenced Cuitlahuac "Tao" Rivera to death for the April 2004 murder of Merced police officer Stephan Gray. Rivera shot Gray during a traffic stop, and was the subject of an intense 17-day manhunt.
"The only regret I have is that I don't think (Rivera being put to death) will happen in my lifetime," Michelle Gray, widow of Stephan Gray, said.
Gray, who attended the trial of Rivera, said she absolutely believes in the death penalty.
"I've always kind of felt it's an eye for an eye, from the Bible," Gray added. "If you take a life, then you have that responsibility. I never felt that the people on death row didn't belong there."
Merced County District Attorney Larry D. Morse II prosecuted both the Rivera and Ruiz cases.
"I've been in the office for 18 years, and we've had well over 200 homicides in that time," Morse said. "We have only filed (for the death penalty) in three of those cases, and two received the death penalty."
Morse said there is a process his office goes through to evaluate the circumstances of the crime and determine whether it's one where a death penalty sanction is appropriate.
"There are a number of factors," Morse said. "The nature of the crime, the defendant's prior record and any other personal considerations."
Morse said going for the death penalty is expensive. The defendant is entitled to two defense attorneys. "And then everything is given another layer of scrutiny in the appellate court," Morse said.
Morse said he never feels good about any murder case he prosecutes, but it is the will of the people of California that certain crimes are so offensive that the ultimate sanction is the only appropriate punishment.
"I feel a sense of justice and appropriate justice for both of the death penalty cases that I prosecuted," Morse said.
With 708 men on California's death row, and 16 women on death row at the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla, it will probably be years before they are put to death. In fact, critics of the state's system say the odds of a convicted killer actually living long enough to be put to death are about 100 to one. Most simply die of old age or other illnesses while in prison as their appeals process goes on.
Although Gray knows in her heart that Rivera probably won't be put to death in prison, she's OK with that.
"I certainly wouldn't want to be his age and living there," Gray said. "He's not in the general population. Hopefully, that's his punishment."
Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or firstname.lastname@example.org