LOS ANGELES — The office of controversial Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón has asked a judge to lift the sentence of a man sentenced to death for killing two students in a 1994 carjacking, according to court documents obtained by NBC News.
The 264-page recommendation of resentment, filed July 11 in Los Angeles County Superior Court by Deputy District Attorney Shelan Joseph, seeks to change Raymond Oscar Butler’s death sentence to life without the possibility of parole.
The filing states that Butler, now 47, committed the murders of the two students when he was 18 years old, after enduring violence and trauma during his childhood. As a result, according to the petition, he suffered from mental illness and cognitive impairment before and at the time of the murders.
“Today’s defendant is not the same cognitively immature teenager who murdered two innocent victims in this case. …interests are best served by reconvicting the accused,” the petition reads.
The petition adds that a hearing is not necessary if all parties agree with the conviction.
Butler was convicted in 1996 of shooting Takuma Ito and Go Matsuura, both 19-year-old film students at Marymount College, in the back of the head in a parking lot at a Southern California grocery store. The case sparked international outrage and prompted the US ambassador to Japan to televised apologyreported The New York Times in 1994.
Butler was later found guilty, after trial and retrial, of participating in the fatal stabbing and assault of a fellow inmate in 1995. He was again sentenced to death.
The recent filing is not intended to lift the death penalty for the 1995 prison attack.
However, Joseph noted that the jurors in Butler’s double homicide trial “had a hard time reaching a unanimous verdict,” including twice saying they were incarcerated.
In a statement, a spokesman for the prosecution said: “Mr. Butler has two separate cases. One case involved the murder of the two students. This case came before our office because the California Supreme Court ruled there was a prima facie matter of misconduct. of the jury.”
“After reviewing the juror’s misconduct claim and weighing the stock, our office found it in the interests of justice to serve Butler to life without the possibility of parole in this case. The prosecution is not asking In order to secure Butler’s release from prison, Mr. Butler remains sentenced to death in case TA041759. The trial will be open to the public.”
“Gascón District Attorney remains committed to ending the death penalty in Los Angeles because it is racist in its application, morally untenable, irreversible, expensive and has never been shown to deter crime.”
A request for comment from Butler’s lawyer was not immediately answered.
The death penalty in California
The death penalty, which is legal in California, was confirmed twice by voters in ballot measures in 2012 and 2016. Democratic government leader Gavin Newsom signed an executive order in 2019 imposing a moratorium on the death penalty close death rowarguing that the system is discriminatory, wastes billions of dollars, is flawed and has failed to deter violent crime.
The warrant did not call for the release of anyone from prison or otherwise change a current conviction or sentence.
Gascón, a progressive Democrat who became a Los Angeles County District Attorney in 2020, said he opposes the death penalty under all circumstances. Shortly after taking office, he issued a series of special guidelines, including ending a cash bail reliance and requesting tougher sentences, not demanding the death penalty, and re-evaluating sentences for people who have served 15 years in prison.
Since then, the firm has reviewed several dozen previous capital cases, according to multiple knowledgeable sources.
The abrupt policy changes sparked a backlash within the prosecutor’s office, forcing Gascón to withdraw some of his guidelines, such as banning juveniles as adults and increasing sentences for certain violent crimes.
He now faces a second recall after a first failed to collect enough signatures to qualify for a special election. County officials determine if there are enough valid signatures on the second recall petition to trigger an election.
In February, more than 80% of members of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining group of more than 800 deputy DAs in the province, took part in an internal referendum on their boss. Nearly 98% of voters were in favor of a recall.
Former San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, also a progressive Democrat, was recalled in June and left his job in July.