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Alleged juror misconduct by a legendary female impersonator prompted the California Supreme Court on Wednesday to ask the state to explain why a death penalty verdict shouldn’t be reversed. The court also asked the state to defend a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel in a separate death case out of Los Angeles. An attorney for death row inmate Clifford Stanley Bolden accuses Jose Sarria, founder and first empress of San Francisco’s gay Imperial Court system, of not disclosing he was acquainted with two figures close to the case. The justices voted 4-0 Wednesday to have the state Department of Corrections reexamine the 51-year-old Bolden’s conviction for the 1986 murder of H. Michael Pedersen, who was stabbed in the back in San Francisco, wrapped in a bedspread and placed in a bathtub under a dribbling faucet. Bolden, who was sentenced to death in 1991, allegedly mutilated Pedersen’s body by carving the letter “L” into his chest. The court’s order was signed by Chief Justice Ronald George and Justices Joyce Kennard, Kathryn Mickle Werdegar and Carlos Moreno. In a petition for writ of habeas corpus, Mendocino solo practitioner Jeanne Keevan-Lynch accused defense lawyer Michael Lurie and co-counsel Michael Gaines of failing to conduct adequate voir dire to determine that Sarria knew two people familiar with the victim. Keevan-Lynch alleged that Sarria — also known as Empress Jose I, the Dowager Empress and the Widow Norton — had heard that Bolden was the “romantic interest” of Andre Montgomery, with whom he had performed at Finnochio’s, a storied drag club in North Beach for 63 years. The club closed in 1999. (The Imperial Court, started in the mid-’60s, raises funds for various organizations, with a new emperor and empress elected by the gay community yearly.) The court papers also say Sarria knew Wayne Friday, a gay man and investigator for the San Francisco district attorney’s office who had worked on the Bolden case. Keevan-Lynch says Friday was coincidentally called for jury duty on the Bolden case and was promptly excused, “albeit after exchanging greetings with Mr. Sarria.” Sarria is also accused of “undisclosed relationships” with the sheriff’s department, which Keevan-Lynch says investigated claims that Bolden was involved in “a prisoner cabal planning to attempt to escape from the jail by shinnying down a braid of bedsheets.” Additionally, Keevan-Lynch claims that Lurie made little or no effort to develop evidence during the penalty phase that Bolden was schizophrenic. She argued that he didn’t raise the issue because he was afraid of being taken off the case. (Lurie had not mentioned the mental condition, she claimed, when he arranged a guilty plea for Bolden on a prior homicide charge.) That “suited Mr. Lurie’s personal needs at the expense of [Bolden's] life.” Lurie signed a declaration that said neither he nor his co-counsel were aware of any connections between Sarria and others. “If I had known of grounds to make a challenge for cause, I would have made that challenge,” he wrote. “If I had known of such grounds before judgment was entered, I would have made a juror misconduct claim in the motion for new trial.” The case is In re Bolden on Habeas Corpus, S099231. Also on Wednesday, every justice except Janice Rogers Brown — who was absent — ordered the state to take a closer look at the case of Alfredo Reyes Valdez, a 41-year-old sentenced to death in 1992 for the 1989 shooting of Ernesto Macias. In a petition for writ of habeas corpus, Los Angeles lawyer Marilee Marshall contends that Valdez was deprived of effective assistance of counsel. She argued that defense lawyers failed to present DNA evidence that could prove that another person committed the murder, and that Valdez, born in Mexico, suffered extreme abuse from his father. “[Valdez] was beaten for minor infractions like not listening and for no reason at all,” Marshall wrote. “On at least one occasion, he was beaten with a two-by-four board, suffering severe head trauma for which he never received medical care.” She also alleged that Valdez’s father sexually molested his nieces and Valdez’s preschool-aged sister. The case is In re Valdez on Habeas Corpus, S107508. The state has until Dec. 17 to respond in both cases.

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