DA Rosen Asks Court to Remove Death Penalty from 15 Murder Convictions

Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen is seeking to change the sentences of more than a dozen prison inmates from death into life behind bars with no chance of parole.

The move affecting 15 men comes four years after Rosen stopped seeking the death penalty, a decision made in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. California has a moratorium on the death penalty.

The long-serving district attorney said that he had lost faith in capital punishment as a fair and effective crime deterrent. The system, Rosen said, was “a fruitless and unfair effort that left victims and perpetrators in legal limbo for decades.”

“The question is not whether these 15 human beings deserve the death penalty,” Rosen said in a statement. “It’s whether the two million people of Santa Clara County deserve the indignity and ineffectiveness of the death penalty. It’s an antiquated, racially biased, error-prone system that deters nothing and costs us millions of public dollars and our integrity as a community that cherishes justice.”

The unprecedented resentencing effort, which began with a filing in Superior Court, is seeking to change the sentences from death to life in prison without parole.

A California law allows district attorneys to request a new sentence of a person if they determine the sentences no longer serve justice. The district attorney said that all of the crimes committed by those sent to Death Row were horrible –and these violent and dangerous criminals should and will spend the rest of their lives in prison.

“Judges and juries of the people should decide where an inmate dies – God should decide when,” he said.

Death penalty opponents praised the move.

Bryan Stevenson, a public interest lawyer who has dedicated his career to helping the poor and incarcerated, released a statement that said:: "I'm extremely encouraged by District Attorney Jeff Rosen's decision to reverse death sentences imposed in Santa Clara County. Leadership often requires that we do things because it's the right thing to do even when it may not be popular. I applaud the courage and the commitment to equality and justice that motivated this decision. We can create a safer, healthier and more just society without the death penalty and the history of racial bias and bigotry it carries."

Stevenson is a law professor at New York University School of Law, and the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative.

Oscar Cantú, Roman Catholic Bishop of San Jose, said: “The Catholic Church stands with all victims of crimes, especially victims of heinous and violent crimes. As the bishop of San Jose, I also stand with and commend Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen for his prophetic and principled decision to reset the death penalty sentences in our county to life in prison. This decision is a significant step forward in respecting the sanctity of all human life, which is a core tenet of Catholic social teaching. It is a call to move away from punitive justice towards restorative justice that heals and rebuilds lives.”

The Death Row inmates who would be affected by Rosen’s request:

  • Fermin Ledesma, 72; sentenced March 14, 1980
  • David Raley, 62; sentenced May 17, 1988
  • William Dennis, 73; sentenced Sept. 6, 1988
  • James O’Malley, 65; sentenced Nov. 21, 1991
  • Richard Farley, 75; sentenced Jan. 17, 1992
  • Gregory Smith, 62; sentenced Aug. 14, 1992
  • Erik Chatman, 59; sentenced April 9, 1993
  • Mark Crew, 69; sentenced July 22, 1993
  • Daniel Silveria, 54; sentenced June 13, 1997
  • John Travis, 54; sentenced June 13, 1997
  • Bobby Lopez, 59; sentenced Nov. 14, 1997
  • James Trujeque, 71; sentenced Nov. 21, 1997
  • Rodrigo Paniagua Jr., 47; sentenced Dec. 16, 2010
  • Melvin Forte, 73; sentenced May 6, 2011

Christopher Spencer, 54, sentenced Nov. 7, 1996, declined resentencing.





  1. Death Penalty is the one of the biggest wastes of money and time in government. There is only one justification to kill someone – for the individual or the state, and that is self-defense. The DP is a ploy to make Democrats look tough on crime and for cowardly white-knucklers claiming it’s a deterrent. It’s stupid and it’s free political capital to stuff shirts like this DA.

  2. Actually the death penalty isn’t a deterrent. To get sentenced to death you not only have to kill someone but kill them while a special circumstance is involved. Those circumstances are spelled out in the law but generally include lying in wait, multiple victims, blowing them up, while raping them, after torturing them. You don’t get the death penalty for killing someone with your car…unless you drag them for miles after molesting them. The problem with the death penalty is slow implementation. If DNA is there, or if it’s on video, or multiple witnesses ID, or a clean confession or statement then the person needs to die for what they did and to keep people like me and you from doing it.

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