Warning: This story contains graphic content.
Richard Allen Benson, convicted to death by a Santa Barbara jury in 1987, died behind bars on San Quentin’s Death Row at age 72. Benson did not share his cell with another inmate, and foul play isn’t suspected.
Benson was convicted of killing 24-year-old Laura Camargo and her three children and then burning down the house in which their bodies were left. Benson first struck Camargo multiple times with a claw hammer and then stuck a sock in her mouth to stop the gurgling sounds. After suffocating the oldest of Camargo’s three children, he proceeded to sexually assault the two youngest for a period of three days. He would later call the experience “a molester’s type of heaven.”
Although the killings took place in Nipomo — part of San Luis Obispo County — Benson sought and got a change of venue, arguing pre-trial publicity would likely taint the impartiality of S.L.O. jurors. During the trial, Benson argued he never would have confessed had one of the detectives investigating the case not falsely told him there was no death penalty in California.
Benson was the child of alcoholic parents; his mother was also a drug addict and prostitute. He spent most of his formative years either in foster homes, juvenile halls, jails, and later prison.
Although California voters affirmed their commitment to the death penalty in 2016, Governor Gavin Newsom has effectively abolished it so long as he remains in office via executive action.
This story was updated on June 2.