Death Penalty Exhausted Appeals – Part 1
By Michele Hanisee
This first of a series of blogs 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. When that stay is lifted, at least 24 death row inmates will be eligible for execution with only the governor to prevent those executions from happening. 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 clear they support the death penalty.
Sims was sentenced to death in California in 1987 for murdering John Harrigan. Sims told Glendale police after his arrest that “I had to kill that boy” and “He would have identified me.”
The murder of John Harrigan was at the tail end of a murder spree by Sims, who was upset at his employer, Domino’s Pizza in South Carolina. After vowing revenge, Sims robbed the Domino’s Pizza parlor where he worked, in Hanahan, South Carolina. Sims tied up his coworker, Chris Zerr, and shot him in the head. Sims also tied up manager Gary Melke and shot him four times in the head and neck. Melke managed to free his hands and, bleeding profusely from his wounds, walked three blocks to the local police station. After spitting broken teeth and bone fragments out of his mouth, Melke told paramedic, George Pledger, that his coworker Mitch Sims shot him. When Pledger assured Melke they would get him to the hospital and save his life, Melke said, “I feel like I’m going to die.” Melke did die after surgery. Zerr was found dead in a pool of blood on the floor of the Domino’s next to the emptied safe.
Sims and his girlfriend, Ruby Padgett, fled to Glendale, California, where they rented a motel room. After casing the local Domino’s Pizza and buying a rope and knife at a local store, they ordered a pizza to be delivered to the motel room. When driver John Harrigan delivered the pizza, Sims and Padgett were waiting with a gun and a knife. The couple hogtied Harrigan with his wrist and feet behind his back, they stuffed a washcloth in his mouth, put a pillowcase over his head and then tied a rope tightly around Harrigan’s neck. They then placed Harrigan face down into a bathtub full of water. Coroner testimony at trial established Harrigan died of ligature strangulation, although drowning could not be ruled out as a contributing cause based on presence of frothy pulmonary edema in his trachea and bronchi.
Sims then drove to Domino’s in Harrigan’s truck, dressed in Harrigan’s uniform and ordered employees employee Kory Spiroff and Edmund Sicam into a back office where he robbed them, taking the cash the bank deposit bag, and Spiroff’s watches. When they said that Harrigan would returning soon, Sims chuckled, said “I don’t think so” and pulled off the sweater he had been wearing over Harrigan’s Domino’s uniform. After emptying the parlor’s cash drawers, he ordered Spiroff and Sicam into the walk-in cooler. There, Sims bound their arms behind their backs with one end of a rope, looped the rope over the top of a tall storage rack and pulled the rope tight before tying the other end around their necks. Spiroff and Sicam had to stand on their tiptoes to avoid being strangled. Sims closed the cooler door, shut off all the lights to the business and left the men to a slow and terrifying death. Fortunately, Glendale police officers responding to a call from another employee of a possible burglary discovered the two and freed them just as they were beginning to lose consciousness.
Sims and Padgett were apprehended in a Las Vegas motel with the gun, the knife, Spiroff’s watch and the bank deposit bag from the Glendale Domino’s. The motel room phone book was open to the Yellow Page ads for local Domino’s Pizza parlors.
Gavin Newsom has decided this brutal and vicious killer, whose guilt is unquestioned and who has exhausted all legal grounds for appeal, should not be executed.
On December 14, 1980, nine employees and two customers were inside Bob’s Big Boys on La Cienega when it closed. When an employee unlocked the front door to let the customer out, Sanders and a crime partner, armed with shotguns, forced their way into the restaurant.
After emptying the safe, the eleven victims were forced into the freezer, where Sanders said, “I want watches, wallets and jewelry.” The manager gathered items from everyone in the freezer in a bucket, which he handed to Sanders defendant. No one resisted the gunmen. Some of the people in the freezer cried and pleaded, “Please don’t hurt us”; others prayed out loud.
Sanders and his crime partner ordered everyone to “(t)urn around and face the wall” and then to kneel. One of them said, “You’re going to get it first.” Sanders and the other gunman fired into the backs of the terrified victims. When one victim stood up and pleaded, “Don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me,” she was ordered to turn around. When she complied, she was shot and fell to the floor. After the firing stopped, Sanders asked his crime partner, “How many rounds do you have?” and was told “None.” The gunmen closed the freezer door.
In the aftermath of the execution-style shooting, David Burrell, Dita Agtani, and Ahmad Mushuk were dead. Cesario Luna was gravely wounded and died several months later of complications from a bullet wound to the brain. Tami Rogoway had shotgun injuries to her back and spine, resulting in numbness on her right side and periodic inability to walk. Evelyn Jackson suffered cranial injury, resulting in permanent impairment of brain function. Dionne Irvin received a gunshot wound to the arm. Three others were physically unharmed, but one developed psychological problems requiring extensive treatment.
There is no doubt about Sanders guilt. He and his partner attempted to kill eleven people by shooting them multiple times with shotguns; only four died despite their murderous efforts. The only reason this brutal killer will not receive the death penalty the jury imposed, a verdict and penalty upheld by the courts, is because Gavin Newsom has decided he should not be executed.
Read our other recent articles regarding the death Penalty. (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 Governmentand (4) DA’s Association Statement on Death Penalty Moratorium
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.