The office of Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon faced increased criticism on Tuesday following reports that they are now asking a Superior Court Judge to change the sentence of a man who killed two people in 1994 from a death sentence to life in prison without parole.
In 1994, Raymond Oscar Butler shot Japanese film students Takuma Ito and Go Matsuura in the back of their heads during a failed carjacking outside a grocery store. The case brought major international attention, culminating with the U.S. ambassador apologizing to the Japanese government. Caught, Butler was convicted in 1996 and sentenced to death. A year prior to his sentencing in 1995, Butler had received another death sentence for his involvement in murdering a fellow inmate.
During his nearly three decades on death row, Butler’s case has been looked at by many. In the July 11th filing by Gascon’s office, they note that Butler was only 18 at the time of his murders, and that the murders had been committed following years of child trauma and violence. It was also noted that he has suffered from both mental illnesses and cognitive impairments, throwing his state of mind during the murders into question. The petition even notes that the now 47-year-old Butler has changed, having lived for now well over half his life in prison.
“The defendant today is not the same, cognitively immature teen-ager who murdered two innocent victims in this case,” said the DA’s office in the petition. “The interests are best served by resentencing the defendant.”
While the resentencing for the two 1994 murders is now in the hands of the Los Angeles County Superior Court, the 1995 murder still will carry the death sentence, meaning that even if the resentencing is successful, Butler will still be on death row.
“Mr. Butler has two separate cases. One case involved the murder of the two college students. This case came before our office due to the California Supreme Court deciding there was a prima facie issue of juror misconduct,” the DA’s office said on Tuesday.”After reviewing the juror misconduct claim and weighing the equities, our office found it to be in the interest of justice to resentence Butler to life without the possibility of parole in this case. The DA’s office is not seeking Butler’s release from prison. In fact, Mr. Butler will remain sentenced to death in case TA041759. The court hearing will be public.”
Despite the questions in the case, the resentencing has brought renewed criticism towards Gascon, who is currently awaiting word of whether or not he will be facing a recall vote this November, due in part to his laxer policies on crime in the County causing crime rates to go up.
Questions over Gascon’s decision
Others have also questioned if resentencing Butler was the wisest of choices, especially with the question of how the family of the victims reacted to it being unknown.
“Every family and loved one reacts differently to a murderer who took someone away from you,” said James Smith, a close relative of a murder victim who was killed a decade ago, to the Globe on Tuesday. “Some forgive, some eventually forgive, some remain red-hot passionate, and some you just don’t know what they will do. I’ve met sweet grandmothers who turned ice cold around the murderer who took someone away from them and never left eye contact with them during the execution. I’ve also known people dead-set on having the person killed until they learned more about their life and why it all happened. People react differently.”
“But in this case, this person killed multiple people. Not one. Multiple. Just for the hell of it. And right now they are throwing around that he had mental issues and that he had a traumatic childhood, but that doesn’t change the fact that he killed so many people. Life without parole, good, he’s never getting out. But a lot of people want more justice than that. And, who speaks for those who died then. It certainly should not be the DA. We need to hear from those family members back in Japan. They might feel differently about this. We need to know if they talked with them and they approved this. If they did, they should have mentioned it.”
The decision on Butler’s resentencing is expected to be announced soon. As of Tuesday, there are no current plans to resentence his 1995 murder charge that, if the 1994 resentencing is successful, could bring him off death row.
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