When federal Judge Cormac Carney ruled last week that California’s death penalty was unconstitutional because it was “so plagued by inordinate and unpredictable delay,” he would have found little in Santa Barbara’s death row population to contradict his finding. Currently, Santa Barbara has nine males on death row. Malcolm Robbins, convicted in 1983 of kidnapping, raping, and murdering a young Goleta boy on Father’s Day and then setting his body on fire, has the longest tenure. Joshua Miracle, who killed an associate by stabbing him 50 times after a three-day meth bender, is the most recent, having been sentenced in 2006. In between, four others were convicted in the 1980s, one in the ’90s, and one in 2001.
Since assuming office, District Attorney Joyce Dudley — now entering her second term — has not sought the death penalty. In one case, her office withdrew a death penalty filing and replaced it with life without possibility of parole. In response to the federal ruling, Dudley agreed the state’s system is indeed dysfunctional and said the death penalty as practiced offers the victims only the illusion of closure. Although California has 900 inmates on death row, only 13 have been executed since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978. Judge Carney found the length of time required to execute the condemned “antithetical to any civilized notion of just punishment” and deprived the death penalty of any deterrent impact, let alone much retributive value. He found that the delays could not be blamed solely on inmates dragging out the process but on a wide array of systematic flaws.
Santa Barbara’s top prosecutor said she couldn’t remember the last person from Santa Barbara executed on death row. In 1958, Elizabeth Duncan, a Santa Barbara resident, was sentenced to death for conspiring with two men — Augustine Baldonado and Luis Moya — to kill her pregnant daughter-in-law, of whom she was insanely jealous. But because the murder took place in Ventura County, Duncan — who was executed in August 1962 with her two accomplices — is listed as a Ventura case. She remains the last woman to be executed in California.