After 30 years on California death row, man’s conviction is overturned because of bizarre courtroom behavior

Billy Ray Waldon, circa 1985. (FBI)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — After 30 years on death row, a man convicted of three murders during a crime spree in San Diego was awarded a new trial.

Billy Ray Waldon, circa 1985. (FBI) 

The California Supreme Court on Monday overturned Billy Ray Waldon’s convictions and death sentence and ordered a new trial. The justices ruled unanimously that a lower court judge improperly allowed Waldon to represent himself at trial despite testimony that his ability to think clearly was impaired.

Waldon, now 71, was sentenced to death after his 1992 trial and has been at San Quentin Prison ever since.

The December 1985 crime spree of which he was convicted included three murders in San Diego. Dawn Ellerman was fatally shot Dec. 7 in her home, which was then set on fire; her 13-year-old daughter, Erin Ellerman, died of smoke inhalation after going into the burning house to try to save her mother. On Dec. 20, Gordon Wells was fatally shot as he worked on his car.

Waldon was also accused of shooting Wells’ neighbor, raping one woman and robbing four others of their purses.

After ballistics evidence connected the San Diego attacks to previous shootings in Oklahoma, a federal warrant was issued for Waldon. In May 1986, he was added to the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list.

The following month, he was arrested after being pulled over in San Diego because he was driving a car with a broken brake light.

One judge, citing Waldon’s “mental disorder,” denied his motion to represent himself, but a subsequent judge granted the motion without considering the earlier ruling or evidence that Waldon suffered from paranoia and delusions and was not competent to conduct his own defense, the Supreme Court’s ruling said.

At a trial that the Los Angeles Times characterized as “bizarre,” Waldon spun a complicated story of being stalked, kidnapped and framed by a CIA agent who was attempting to thwart Waldon’s efforts “to promote world peace, spread new languages, and advance Cherokee autonomy,” according to the ruling.

Waldon said that he had managed to escape his persecutor in December 1985 and, after learning he was wanted for murder, had lived in the crawl space under an Imperial Beach house.

The Supreme Court ruling said that the judge’s approval of Waldon’s self-representation amounted to “total deprivation
of the right to counsel at trial.” It reversed the conviction and sentence and sent the case back to the lower court for further proceedings.

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Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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