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Third Time the Charm?

Tomorrow, the California Supreme Court will decide, for the third time, the capital case of Michael Ray Burgener. Burgener received a well deserved sentence of death for the murder of William Arias, a clerk at a 7-Eleven in Riverside, California, in 1980.

The notorious Bird Court wrongly reversed Burgener's sentence the first time in 1986, 41 Cal. 3d 505, because trial counsel honored his client's instructions not to put on mitigating evidence. It is basic legal ethics that the client controls the goal of representation. Eight months later, Bird, Reynoso, and Grodin, JJ., got the well-warranted boot from the people of California.

Burgener received another death sentence, and there was another appeal. In January 2003, 29 Cal. 4th 833, Cal. Supreme sent the case back to the Superior Court to reconsider the automatic motion to modify the penalty verdict. That reconsideration only took the trial court a matter of months. Cal. Supreme then allowed the briefing to drag on for five years, even though all three briefs on this second trip up total only 113 pages.


I watched oral argument for this case at Cal Supreme. Petitioner's oral argument essentially focused on one thing - that the trial judge made a statement regarding petitioner's self-representation something to the effect of "well, you might as well represent yourself since you likely know the case better than any lawyer would." Initially, petitioner's argument appeared valid - after all, a judge certainly should not ENCOURAGE a defendant to self-represent. However, during the state's oral argument, the statement was put into context. Basically, it sounded like the judge was making a sarcastic - and ultimately, perhaps inappropriate - comment that petitioner had appeared in court so many times, he could handle the resentencing without counsel present. By no means did this quip rise to the level of a 6th Amendment violation, as petitioner urged the court to find.

The bench also repeatedly indicated their hesitation to remand the case for the THIRD time. Already, 2 of the trial judges related to the case (which, as you pointed out, started in 1980) had died! Or at least, their hesitation to remand the case without specific instructions.

Just thought I'd share my observations.

Why do you think they allowed it to drag on for so long? It doesn't seem as if the California Supreme Court is anti-death penalty. Since the demise of the Bird Court, they've almost always upheld death sentences.

This happened quite a few years ago. I am a very good friend with the woman who used to be married to William Arias. There are some people who are still alive who know about this case and follow what is happening. She went to William Arias grave site every day for several months after he was killed. He was killed in cold blood and the appeals courts have time after time postponed the death sentence. I did not know William Arias myself but there are family members who are aware of the facts in this case and that Michael Ray Burgener is still alive. The store clerk who was killed was a young person, 23 years old, and now in 2010, would have been 52 years old. Just to let it be known for the record, I knew her for 15 years before she even told me about this incident. It has been such a waste of tax payers money that this continues to be retried again and again. This is the only place on the internet to leave a comment on this person and the long entire drawn out affair.
If the end result that Michael Ray Burgener is to die a natural death in prison, then take him off death row and save tax payer dollars. It is a waste of the state of California court systems and attorney's time to keep retrying knowing that this will be ongoing with no finality to the appeals. Whether Michael Ray Burgener is executed or not for this crime, it will not bring William Arias back to life.
Written for the sake of his former wife.

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