Condemned murderer Donald Beardslee, who killed two
young Peninsula women in 1981 while on parole from an earlier murder
conviction, was executed by lethal injection early today at San Quentin
Beardslee, 61, a stocky man with a pasty
complexion, graying black hair swept back and a gray mustache, showed
little emotion as he was led into the death chamber and bound to a
gurney with four-inch black webbing.
It took nearly 28 minutes to complete the
execution, which began at 12:01 a.m. The medics who administered the
lethal injection had some difficulty finding veins suitable for
inserting the intravenous tubes through which the drugs were to be
pumped, and the actual injection did not begin until 12:18 a.m.
At 12:20 a.m., Beardslee opened and fluttered his
eyes momentarily. Two minutes later his chest heaved twice. At 12:26
a.m., Beardslee's head tilted slightly to the left. It was his last
At 12:29 a.m., a slip of paper was handed through
the porthole in the witness room that said Beardslee was dead.
Beardslee spent the last hours before his
execution talking with his spiritual adviser and members of his legal
team. He skipped the traditional last meal and only drank grapefruit
juice before his death.
Thirty people witnessed Beardslee's death.
No members of his family were present for the
execution, and only his attorney, Jeannie Sternberg, and his spiritual
adviser, the Rev. Margaret Harrell, attended on his behalf.
Beardslee, of Redwood City, was convicted of the
shotgun killing of Patty Geddling, 23, and the throat-slashing murder of
Stacey Benjamin, 19. Prosecutors said the women were killed in revenge
for a $185 drug debt claimed by another man.
T. Tom Amundsen, Stacey Benjamin's brother, and
two of her cousins, Mark and Bobby Brooke, were present for Beardslee's
After the execution, Amundsen said, "I saw what I
wanted to see. I'm glad.
"If you have any daughters, sisters or moms, you
go home and give them a big hug and hope they never have to meet a guy
like that," he said.
None of Geddling's family members attended. Mary
Geddling, who is married to Patty Geddling's son, Ivan, said: "I'm not
going to stay up and watch it. ... It's very hard on all of us."
Patty Geddling's brother, Ernest Montano, was
scheduled to witness the death but after driving all the way from
Vacaville to attend the execution, he could not bring himself to enter
"I couldn't go in there myself," he told The
Chronicle shortly before Beardslee's death. "They'd have to kick me out
in 10 minutes. I'd lose it."
Demonstrators who had massed outside the prison
earlier in the day to protest the execution grew silent as the hour of
Beardslee's death approached. For roughly 20 minutes after the execution
was slated to began, the protesters drifted away down the streets of
Point San Quentin Village, walking slowly and silently back to cars they
had parked as much as a mile away.
Corrections Department spokeswoman Terry Thornton
said Beardslee had not had a visit from relatives in a month, although
his brother and sister appeared before a state board last week to argue
Beardslee declined to order a last meal and, at
7:42 p.m., refused the dinner provided to other prisoners of chili
macaroni, mixed vegetables and green salad, said Todd Slosek, another
spokesman for the Corrections Department.
Vernell Crittendon, a spokesman for San Quentin
Prison, said Beardslee seemed to be in good spirits most of the day.
"He seemed to be very relaxed," Crittendon said.
"He was very talkative."
Around 6 p.m., prison officials escorted him to
the death-watch cell in the prison, where he passed the evening with his
spiritual adviser Margaret Harrell. His mood became more somber after
Crittendon said up until that point, Beardslee
"still had a great deal of hope that there would be some sort of
intervention on his behalf."
Beardslee's fate was sealed Tuesday afternoon when
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger denied clemency and the U.S. Supreme Court
denied review of his last two appeals -- one challenging the jury
instructions at Beardslee's trial, the other claiming flaws in
California's procedures for lethal injection.
Later, Schwarzenegger rejected a defense lawyer's
request to delay the execution for 120 days so that courts could further
examine the lethal injection procedures after a federal appeals panel
expressed qualms last week.
In asking Schwarzenegger to commute the sentence
to life without parole, Beardslee's lawyers said a new report by a
prominent neuropsychologist concluded that Beardslee had been
brain-damaged since birth. The report said the condition was worsened by
two head injuries he suffered as a young man that left him unable to
make independent judgments under stress.
But Schwarzenegger said Beardslee's apparent
mental impairment did not prevent him from helping to plan the killings,
acting purposefully during the crimes and trying to cover them up. The
governor cited evidence that Beardslee told an accomplice to buy tape to
bind the victims, helped to wipe down a van to remove fingerprints and,
along with another man, pulled down one victim's pants to make the crime
look like a sexual assault.
"These actions show Beardslee's consciousness of
guilt and the nature and consequences of the murders he committed,''
Schwarzenegger wrote. "There is no question in my mind that at the time
Beardslee committed the murders he knew what he was doing -- and he knew
it was wrong.''
Schwarzenegger also said Beardslee's record as a
model prisoner for 20 years and the fact that he was the only
participant in the crimes to be sentenced to death did not justify
clemency. Beardslee was the only defendant with a previous murder
conviction and the only one "who administered the coup de grace to each
of the murdered women,'' Schwarzenegger said.
Ten prisoners have been put to death since the
state resumed executions in 1992 after a 25-year hiatus. The last was in
January 2002, when Stephen Wayne Anderson was executed for murdering a
San Bernardino County woman during a 1980 burglary.
California has 639 condemned prisoners, more than
any other state. Beardslee confessed to each of his three murders, all
committed against women he barely knew.
A native of St. Louis, he had no violent crimes on
his record until he killed Laura Griffin, 54, in her apartment in
December 1969, the same night the two met at a St. Louis-area bar. She
was stabbed, choked and drowned in a bathtub. Beardslee, who described
the killing to authorities as senseless and without motive, pleaded
guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
He was paroled in 1977 to the Bay Area, where his
mother lived, and settled in Redwood City. He was still on parole, and
working as a machinist at Hewlett-Packard, when he murdered Geddling and
Benjamin in April 1981.
Witnesses said the two women were lured to
Beardslee's apartment by Rickie Soria, a young woman who shared the
apartment, in a scheme by a drug dealer named Frank Rutherford to take
revenge for an unpaid $185 drug debt claimed by an associate, Bill
Rutherford shot Geddling in the shoulder.
Beardslee was part of a group that then left with Geddling on the
pretext of taking her to a hospital. They drove to a remote area near
Pescadero where, according to prosecution testimony, Forrester shot
Geddling twice, then gave the gun to Beardslee, who fired the fatal
Beardslee and Soria returned to Redwood City,
where Rutherford was holding Benjamin captive, and drove with her to
Lake County. There, Rutherford tried to strangle Benjamin with a wire,
Beardslee joined in, and then Beardslee got a knife and slit her throat.
Linked to the crimes by a phone number on a piece of paper found near
Geddling's corpse, Beardslee admitted his role to police, led them to
Benjamin's body and testified against the other defendants.
Rutherford was convicted of Benjamin's murder and
sentenced to life in prison. He died in prison two years ago. Soria, who
was on the scene of both murders, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder
and is still in prison. Forrester, who denied shooting Geddling, was
Beardslee was sentenced to death for Geddling's
murder and to life without parole for Benjamin's murder. His appeals
challenged the prosecution's use of the Missouri murder -- in which
police may have questioned him illegally -- to argue for the death
penalty; questioned the competence of one of his Redwood City trial
lawyers, who read Bon Appetit magazine during part of Beardslee's
testimony; and claimed his death sentence was disproportionate to the
punishment of others who allegedly orchestrated Geddling's and
Benjamin's murders. Over two decades, each claim was rejected by state
and federal courts.
His final appeal of his death sentence, denied
Tuesday, argued that penalty-phase jurors were prejudiced when the judge
told them that Beardslee had been convicted of killing the two women to
eliminate them as witnesses. The witness-killing charges eventually were
overturned, but courts ruled that they did not influence the death
In the other appeal rejected by the Supreme Court,
Beardslee's attorneys argued that the state's procedures for lethal
injection constitute cruel and unusual punishment and violate the
condemned man's freedom of speech. If administered improperly, they
argued, the chemicals could cause an agonizing death, and Beardslee
would be unable to cry out because one of the drugs causes paralysis.
After the early-afternoon court rejection, one of
Beardslee's lawyers asked Schwarzenegger for a 120-day reprieve to allow
the courts to reach a final resolution on whether the state takes
adequate safeguards in administering lethal injections.
The attorney, Steven Lubliner, noted that the
federal appeals court that refused to block the execution last week said
it was nonetheless troubled by reports of possible problems in past
executions and by the state's refusal to explain the need for the
But at 4 p.m., Schwarzenegger denied the reprieve.
Chronicle staff writer Bill Wallace contributed to
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