Conservative Kenneth Starr asks clemency for death
row inmate Michael Morales
By Julia Cheeve, Bay City News
January 27, 2006, 8:30 p.m.
Conservative law professor Kenneth Starr asked Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger
today for clemency for a condemned inmate he described as "a
deeply repentant, sorrowful Christian who has accepted full responsibility
for a terrible crime."
Michael Morales, 46, of Stockton, is scheduled to be executed
at San Quentin State Prison on Feb. 21 for murdering 17-year-old
Terri Winchell of Lodi in 1981 by beating her with a hammer and
stabbing her. Morales was also convicted of raping Winchell.
His clemency petition was submitted to the governor today by
Starr and Los Angeles lawyer David Senior.
Starr, now dean of the Pepperdine University School of Law in
Malibu, previously served as a federal judge, U.S. solicitor general
and an independent counsel who investigated former President Bill
The American Civil Liberties Union said on Thursday that Starr
decided to join the clemency effort because Morales took responsibility
for his actions, showed remorse and has tried to atone for his
crime while in prison.
San Joaquin County prosecutors have until Feb. 4 to submit a
response opposing clemency.
In addition to saying that Morales deserves mercy because he
is remorseful, Starr and Senior contend in the petition that the
testimony of a key prosecution witnesses has been shown to be
The petition includes an unusual letter to the governor from
the original sentencing judge supporting the clemency bid.
Retired Ventura County Superior Court Judge Charles McGrath says
in the letter that he now believes the testimony of the witness,
jailhouse informant Bruce Samuelson, was false and that he would
not have approved a death penalty if he had been aware that Samuelson
Morales' 1983 trial was moved from San Joaquin County to Ventura
County on a change of venue.
Starr and Senior contend in the clemency petition that Samuelson's
testimony was shown to be false when he told representatives of
the state attorney general's office in 1993 that he and Morales
spoke in Spanish when Morales allegedly confessed details of the
crime in a crowded cellblock in 1983.
Morales grew up in an English-speaking household and does not
speak Spanish, the attorneys say.
The petition says, "Thus, it was factually impossible for
Mr. Morales to have made any of the statements attributed to him
Samuelson's testimony helped to lay the groundwork for a death
penalty because he said Morales confessed to having planned and
intended the murder.
Those statements enabled the jury to make a finding of a special
circumstance that Morales had been lying in wait, which in turn
made it possible for the jury to give a death sentence, later
approved by the trial judge.
McGrath wrote in the letter to the governor that if he had known
about Samuelson's false statements, "I would have set the
death penalty aside."
Morales' lawyers claim he did not plan the murder in advance
and that he acted impulsively under the influence of the drug
PCP and alcohol given to him by his cousin, Ricky Ortega.
Winchell was the girlfriend of a man with whom Ortega had had
a homosexual affair.
Prosecutors contended that Morales and Ortega decided to kill
Winchell in revenge for her having revealed Ortega's homosexuality.
Starr and Senior say in the petition that Ortega and Morales planned
only to frighten Winchell.
Ortega was also convicted of the murder and was sentenced to
life in prison.
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