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The California Supreme Court is asking the attorney general’s office to explain why a convicted murderer’s death sentence shouldn’t be reversed based on allegations that a now-deceased Alameda County, Calif., judge colluded with prosecutors to ensure a capital conviction by keeping Jews off the jury. The court on Wednesday issued an order to show cause based on defense lawyers’ claims that convicted murderer Fred Freeman’s 1987 trial was tainted when then-Superior Court Judge Stanley Golde allegedly told prosecutors to keep Jews off the jury because they would never vote to send someone to the gas chamber. Freeman’s lawyers contend that John Quatman, who prosecuted the case as an Alameda County deputy district attorney, followed the judge’s advice. They say he also has acknowledged in a declaration that the office’s “standard practice” at the time was to exclude black women from capital case juries. A copy of the declaration was not immediately available Wednesday. Attorneys Gary Sowards, Shelley Sandusky, Michael Laurence and Shani Pines, all of San Francisco’s Habeas Corpus Resource Center, claim in court papers that the actions of both Golde and Quatman denied Freeman a fair trial. At the time of Golde’s death, in 1998, he was believed to have handed down more death sentences than any other judge in Alameda County, and possibly the state, since the punishment was reinstated in 1978. Freeman was sentenced to death on May 28, 1987, for shooting and killing Donald Koger while robbing patrons of a Berkeley, Calif., bar called the Gilman Street Exit. The state Supreme Court affirmed the death sentence in 1994. According to documents filed with the Supreme Court, the new allegations only came to light in May 2003 when Scott Kaufmann, who knows both Sowards and Quatman, met Quatman by chance in Whitefish, Mont. The two engaged in a “social conversation” during which Freeman’s case came up. Kaufmann was visiting Glacier National Park, which is near Whitefish, where Quatman now has a private practice. Based on the conversation, Sowards and the other defense lawyers got a declaration from Quatman. “Judge Golde told the prosecutor that he ‘could not have a Jew on the jury,’” according to the habeas petition, “and asked the prosecutor if he ‘was aware that when Adolf Eichmann was apprehended after World War II, there was a major controversy in Israel over whether he should be executed.’ Judge Golde ‘said no Jew would vote to send a defendant to the gas chamber.’ “The prosecutor thanked Judge Golde for this ‘advice’ and, thereafter, excluded any prospective juror who was Jewish.” Freeman’s lawyers allege that Golde’s conduct “constituted an abdication of his responsibility to provide [Freeman] with an impartial tribunal, and an attempt designed to, and which did in fact, engineer a death sentence.” They also chastised Quatman for allegedly following “standard practice” by keeping three black women off the Freeman jury. “The removal of even one juror for race-based or gender-based reasons,” they argue, “violated [Freeman's] right to equal protection under the law.” San Francisco-based Deputy Attorney General Morris Lenk responded to the allegations by saying that even though the statements attributed to Quatman seem “purposefully vague and unclear,” an admission that jurors were excluded on religious grounds based on a judge’s advice “warrants examination” in an evidentiary hearing. On the other hand, Lenk challenged the allegations about excluding black women. “The declaration seems intentionally designed to be vague,” he wrote, “as it does not state where such a ‘standard practice’ occurred, much less that it was, in fact, a practice employed in this case.” The claims of racial discrimination, he continued, “amount to nothing more than conclusions founded on ambiguity that lack factual support.” Wednesday’s order to show cause was signed by all seven justices. The state has until Aug. 27 to respond formally.

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