The California Supreme Court decided Thursday to uphold a death penalty conviction for a man who molested and murdered two South Bay boys in 1993.
Scott Erskine has been on death row at San Quentin State Prison since 2004 after a jury convicted him of the murders of Charlie Keever, 13, and Jonathan Sellers, 9. Erskine was already serving a decades-long prison sentence for rape at the time.
Keever and Sellers disappeared while on a bike ride along the Otay River in 1993. Their bodies were later found days later in a riverbed in the South Bay neighborhood of Palm City. Investigators said they had been beaten, raped and murdered.
In a 40-page unanimous decision released Thursday, the state supreme court justices rejected all arguements made by Erskine’s appellate attorney, Kimberly Grove.
In the appeal, Grove argued that a judge wrongly removed a juror who opposed the death penalty and that the judge gave an an incorrect instruction that prejudiced the jury.
The court also rejected arguments that the death penalty is unconstitutional and was wrongly applied to Erskine in this case.
The order meant a reprieve for all individuals sentenced to death, a withdrawal of the state's lethal injection protocol, and the closing of San Quentin's never-used execution chamber. It did not mean a release of inmates or change in their conviction, a spokesperson for the governor's office said.
The mothers of the two boys, Maria Keever and Milena Sellers-Phillips, who have been fighting for decades to see Erskine's death sentence run its course, feared the moratorium rendered their efforts useless.
The order did very little to change the death penalty process, which hasn't executed a condemned inmate since 2006 when the state indefinitely suspended capital punishment to rework its lethal injection policies and procedures.
Under Newsom's order, condemned inmates remain on death row, sentenced to death, and their appeals continue. But no executions will be scheduled while the governor's moratorium remains in effect.
The last inmate to be executed was Clarence Ray Allen, killed Jan. 17, 2006 at age 76. Allen, sentenced to death on three counts of first-degree murder, was on death row for more than two decades before a lethal injection was administered.
Prior, the state had executed 13 inmates since the time the death penalty was reinstated in 1978.
Newsom’s executive action is only temporary. Repeal of capital punishment would be up to California voters, who have consistently rejected statewide ballot measures to repeal the death penalty.