Death Penalty Exhausted Appeals – Part 6

By Michele Hanisee

This is the sixth in a series of articles that focuses on the murderers on California’s death row who have exhausted all appeals. The last impediment to executions is a federal stay that is now being challenged by several elected District Attorneys and victims. Newsom’s blocking the execution of these vicious murderers is in direct violation of the will of California voters, who three times in the past seven years, have made it clear they support the death penalty for the most brutal murders.

While the details of the crimes are not pleasant to discuss, it is critical to remind everyone about the horrific facts which resulted in juries voting to impose a death sentence.

William Payton

William Payton was sentenced to death for the brutal murder of 21-year old Pamela Montgomery and attempted murders of Patricia Pensinger and her 10-year old son, Blaine. A jury found Payton guilty of the special circumstance allegation that the murder was committed in the commission or attempted commission of rape.

As detailed in California Supreme Court records, Patricia Pensinger was the manager of the boarding house where she lived with her husband, sons, and a boarder, Pamela Montgomery. Payton had also lived there in the past. On the morning of May 26, 1980, Patricia, whose husband was away on duty with the National Guard, was unable to sleep. She was sitting in her kitchen working on a crossword puzzle at about 4:00 am. when she heard her front door open. William Payton walked into the kitchen. Payton said he was having car trouble and needed to talk to her. As they talked, Payton had several beers. At one point, Pamela Montgomery briefly visited the kitchen for a glass of water. About an hour after he arrived, Payton asked Pensinger if he could sleep on her couch. She agreed and went to sleep in her bedroom, where her son Blaine was sleeping.

Patricia was awakened by two blows to her back. When she rolled over, Payton jumped on the bed and began stabbing her with a knife. When her son attempted to grab the knife, Payton stabbed him as well. When the knife blade bent and would no longer penetrate Patricia’s flesh, Payton went back to the kitchen where he retrieved a butcher knife. Pensinger told her son to escape and get help while she distracted Payton. When she entered the kitchen, Payton attacked her again. As Blaine ran through the kitchen, Payton stabbed him in the back, then resumed his attack on Patricia. When other people in the house began to respond to Patricia calls for help, Payton dropped the knife and fled. Although Patricia Pensinger suffered 40 stab wounds to her face, neck, back, and chest, and Blaine suffered 23 wounds to his face, neck, and back, both survived.

Pamela Montgomery, however, was found dead in her bedroom in a pool of blood. Her nightgown had been torn open, and she had been stabbed 12 times, including a 6-inch incision from above the stomach to the pubic area.  Pamela also had wounds to her hands from trying to defend herself.  Blood was in the bedroom and in a nearby bathroom. A pair of panties entwined around some shorts were found on Pamela’s bed. Saliva consistent with Payton was found on Pamela’s breast. Semen that could have come from Payton was found in Pamela’s vaginal area.  Payton’s fingerprints were on a beer bottle in the kitchen.

At the trial, Payton’s wife Deborah waived her privilege against testifying against her husband. She told the jury how Payton had returned home at about 6:15 a.m. covered with blood. When he removed his clothes (which were still wet), she saw a large amount of blood on his body. The jury convicted Payton of the rape and murder of Pamela Montgomery and the attempted murder of Pensinger and her son.

At the penalty phase, the prosecutor presented evidence of Payton’s stabbing attack on a woman he was living with in 1973, along with convictions for drug possession and statutory rape. A jail inmate testified that Payton told him that he had a “severe problem with sex and women” and that he would “stab them and rape them.” Payton said, “that all women on the street that he seen was a potential victim, regardless of age or looks.”  After hearing the evidence at penalty phase, the jury recommended a sentence of death.

Payton confessed to the murder while in jail telling another inmate that he had a “severe problem with sex and women” and that he would “stab them and rape them.” He said, “that all women on the street that he seen was a potential victim, regardless of age or looks.”  This testimony along with the forensic evidence convinced the jury to convict Payton of the rape and murder of Pamela Montgomery and the attempted murder of Pensinger and her son and recommend that he be executed.

During the mandatory appeals process, Federal Judge Manuel Real of the Central District of California rejected all of the defense claims, as did Justice Pamela Rymer, writing for the Ninth Circuit.

When signing the executive order that placed a moratorium on the death penalty in California, Governor Newsom said he could not countenance the odds of putting an innocent person to death. But there is no doubt about Payton’s guilt.  His senseless murder and violent sexual behavior put him on death row.

Scott Lynn Pinholster

As detailed in California Supreme Court records, In 1984, Scott Pinholster was sentenced to death for the burglary and stabbing murder of 25-year old Thomas Johnson, and 29-year old Robert Beckett. On January 9, 1982 Pinholster and his accomplices, Art Corona, and Paul Brown drove to Michael Kumar’s home. Kumar was a drug dealer who lived in Tarzana and was considered by Pinholster to be an easy target. When they arrived, Pinholster knocked on the front door, then opened a side gate, broke in through a window and began to burglarize the home.

During the burglary, Thomas Johnson and Robert Beckett, who were housesitting for Kumar, arrived at the home and opened the front door to discovered Pinholster and his accomplices.  All three burglars attempted to leave through the back door, but Johnson and Beckett ran around the back of the house.  As Johnson tried to enter the house, Pinholster hit him in the chest several times and demanded his wallet.  After Johnson dropped his wallet and sat down, Pinholster stabbed Beckett repeatedly in the chest with a buck knife while demanding money.  When Beckett fell over, Pinholster took his wallet and kicked him in the head.  Brown also stabbed Johnson several times.  The trio fled the scene to Pinholster’s apartment. Pinholster and one of the accomplices remarked they had “gotten them good.” During the United States Supreme Court appeal, Justice Samuel Alito recounted  that “[a]t the apartment, Pinholster washed his knife, and the three split the proceeds of the robbery: $23 and one quarter-ounce of marijuana.”

Art Corona later turned himself in and testified against Pinholster and Brown. As detailed in the court record, “there was overwhelming evidence of defendant’s guilt on the other charges. Corona was present at the scene, and his testimony described defendant’s homicides in detail; his testimony was corroborated by the discovery of defendant’s palm print in the house and of the bloodstained items in defendant’s apartment, and also by the testimony of several witnesses regarding defendant’s conduct before and after the crimes.”

At the penalty trial, Pinholster’s admitted that he had a prior conviction for kidnapping with the use of a knife and admitted his involvement with street gangs. Pinholster stipulated to numerous disciplinary infractions during his prison term for the kidnapping, such as throwing urine at guards, and threatening to stab guards. The prosecution presented testimony that Pinholster had a violent history with law enforcement, including kicking one police officer in the back of the head while allegedly faking an epileptic seizure.

Johnson and Beckett’s deaths were a tragedy. Pinholster’s senseless and violent acts for such a small price, and his history of violence, shows he is a danger to society.

Read Death Penalty Exhausted Appeals Part 1. To read our other recent articles regarding the death penalty, click these hyperlinks: (1) Newsom Supports Killers, Rapists And Torturers Over Victims And Their Survivors, (2) Governor Newsom’s moratorium on the death penalty, (3) Another Demonstration Of Why The Majority Of Californians Distrust Government and (4) DA’s Association Statement on Death Penalty Moratorium.

To read parts 1-3 of our Death Penalty series, please click here.

Michele Hanisee is President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles.

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