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In the case of twice-convicted murderer Robert Rhoades, an Alameda County jury will have to decide whether he deserves to die � even though he is already on death row for an earlier crime. If Rhoades gets the death sentence again, he’ll become the seventh of 664 death row inmates who have been doubly condemned in separate trials. In cases like that of Rhoades, where the prosecution is fighting for an execution the defendant is already facing, one might ask: What’s the point? Most prosecutors say it is getting justice for the victims � regardless of the extra time and money it takes to prosecute a capital case. Other prosecutors say not seeking death a second time around runs the risk of having the existing sentence reversed, given the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals’ reputation for tossing out death sentences frequently. The Ninth Circuit does not keep statistics on its reversals. Senior Deputy DA Angela Backers declined to comment on why she’s seeking a second death sentence for Rhoades, but according to Senior Deputy DA Micheal O’Connor, the decision is always based on the merits of each case. An existing death sentence can’t be used to plea bargain against the punishment in another case, he said. Nor does cost enter the equation. “Either it’s appropriate for the death penalty or it’s not,” O’Connor said. “When you’re talking about human lives, you don’t go into a cost-benefit analysis.” ALL RHOADES LEAD TO DEATH In deciding whether to pursue a second capital conviction, a DA often factors in the strength of the previous case, according to Dane Gillette, the state attorney general’s capital coordinator up until January. If a defendant has already appealed a previous death sentence unsuccessfully up the chain, for example, that might be a reason not to go for another one, he said. Earlier this month, Rhoades’ defense attorney Albert Wax revealed to jurors that his client was already a condemned man. Jurors � having issued a guilty verdict last month for the 1984 murder of Julie Connell after deliberating for less than an hour � had just begun the penalty phase of the trial. Only then were they allowed to hear about Rhoades’ prior 1998 murder conviction and death sentence for the rape, torture and murder of 8-year-old Michael Lyons. DNA evidence had subsequently connected Rhoades to the earlier murder of Connell. Regardless of the horrific details of the Lyons murder, Wax said during opening statements, it would do nothing for the victims’ families or the citizens of Alameda County to give him the death penalty again. Humboldt solo attorney Richard “Jay” Moller, who is expected to file appellate briefs in Rhoades’ first death sentence approximately two years from now, wouldn’t comment on the likelihood of getting it reversed. But he did call the DA’s decision to pursue a second death sentence “wasteful.” Now-retired Orange County Deputy DA Bryan Brown decided to seek death a second time for William Bonin, who was known as the “freeway killer” for strangling more than a dozen boys and dumping their naked bodies along Southern California roads. A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge had sentenced Bonin to death in 1983 for 10 murders when Brown went ahead with his capital case for four Orange County murders. “Quite frankly, I think the prosecutor has a responsibility to represent all of these live victims,” said Brown, referring to the victims’ families. Five months after Bonin’s first sentence, another jury in Orange County recommended the same fate. Bonin was executed in 1996. A SYMBOLIC EXERCISE But a second death sentence doesn’t make an execution more certain, according to Richard Dieter, executive director of Death Penalty Information Center, an anti-capital punishment nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C. The death penalty in California is “purely symbolic,” Dieter said. The slow rate of executions here � averaging one every other year � shows that the chances of anyone getting executed are “very, very small,” he said. According to Dieter, “the only time it would pay off is if the first one is overturned and the second one is affirmed and executed” � a hypothetical situation he believes is a “stretch.” Elisabeth Semel, a Boalt Hall School of Law professor and director of the school’s Death Penalty Clinic, said hedging one’s bets “is an unsatisfactory explanation of why someone would seek the death penalty.” Rhoades’ chances of getting his first death sentence reversed aren’t exactly nil. In 1998, a Sacramento County Superior Court judge declared a mistrial in the penalty phase after jurors deadlocked on whether to recommend execution. A year later, a second jury deliberated for two days before deciding Rhoades deserved the death penalty, according to the Sacramento Bee. But prosecutors don’t always elect for another capital case � or another trial � after a convicted murderer has been given death. In 1999, former San Francisco prosecutor Paul Cummins decided against trying mass murderer Charles Ng after an Orange County jury already handed Ng 11 death sentences. Ng had been charged with a dozen murder counts in San Francisco and Calaveras County in 1985 and fought a long extradition battle from Canada, where capital punishment had been abolished. Since a large chunk of his murders occurred in Calaveras County, Cummins let the Calaveras County DA prosecute five of the San Francisco cases. “We put all our eggs in one basket,” Cummins explained. At the time, Cummins was allowed to move those five to Calaveras County because either the bodies or evidence were found there. But the case against Ng for the alleged slaying of San Francisco disc jockey Donald Giulietti was not allowed to be moved to Calaveras County, because there was no connection to that county. Giulietti had been shot and left in his San Francisco home. Since the trial encompassed so many victims and ended up with a high likelihood the death sentence would stick, Cummins decided not to try Ng again in San Francisco. Another consideration, he said, was the evidence against Ng for killing Giulietti may not have amounted to a slam-dunk prosecution. By then, 15 years had passed since Giulietti was killed in 1984. In theory, if all of Ng’s convictions were someday reversed, San Francisco could still prosecute him for that crime. “He never paid the price for the Giulietti murder,” Cummins said. The other six death row inmates who have been condemned twice in separate California counties include David Carpenter, Dean Carter, Horace Kelly, Martin Kipp, James Marlow and Teofilo Medina. None has been executed. Closing arguments in the Rhoades penalty phase begin today. Due to an editing error, a May 14 story about the death penalty misspelled the first name of former Orange County Deputy District Attorney Bryan Brown. We regret the error.

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