William Charles Payton, Who Still Sits on Death Row for 1980 Rape-Murder, Loses Latest Appeal

William Charles Payton raped and murdered Pamela Montgomery in the early morning hours of May 26, 1980, stabbing her 12 times, six of the wounds in a line from Montgomery's stomach to her groin. After that he repeatedly stabbed Montgomery's Garden Grove boarding house landlady, Patricia Pensinger, and Pensinger's 10-year-old son Blaine.

While awaiting a trial that would reveal Payton previously threatened a girlfriend with a knife when he wanted sex, he claimed he'd found God. Payton would nonetheless spend the next 31 years praying from Death Row, which is where he'll remain following a federal appellate ruling Friday.

A unanimous, three-justice panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in
Pasadena ruled that, counter to Payton's claims, he did not receive
ineffective assistance of counsel and that he should not receive a new trial.

Payton was sentenced to die in 1982 for a rape-murder homicide investigators at the time claimed produced the bloodiest crime scene they had ever seen. Pensinger had allowed Payton to spend the night in her boarding house before he went on to rape and kill tenant Montgomery and slash the landlady and her boy.

This was actually Payton's second time before the Ninth Circuit. In Brown v. Payton, justices held, 6-5, that the capital sentencing process was rendered “fundamentally unfair” when the trial judge allowed Deputy District Attorney Michael Jacobs to suggest that jurors were not required to consider Payton's conduct after the murder, including his religious experience and good works in jail, as a mitigating factor.

But the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-3 to overturn that decision in 2005, finding the Ninth Circuit should have, under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, deferred to a 1992 ruling by the California Supreme Court that the remarks were harmless, both because the jurors heard all of the mitigating evidence and because the aggravating factors were so overwhelming that the prosecutor's remarks made no difference.

The case was still returned to the lower courts to resolve other claims by Payton not ruled upon, including his claim his defense attorney James Merwin inadequately investigated a potential case of mitigation based on his client's effed-up childhood and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) suffered during the Vietnam War.

Federal Judge Manuel Real of the Central District of California rejected all of the defense claims, as did Justice Pamela Rymer, writing for the Ninth Circuit.

Payton's habeas counsel, Deputy Federal Public Defender Gail Ivens, had said the defense should have presented evidence that the defendant's father was alcoholic, abusive and had molested and raped Payton's stepsister, that his stepfather was verbally abusive and that Payton began using drugs as a teenager.

But Rymer wrote that Merwin “interviewed family members, sought records, and consulted experts who conducted thorough evaluations,” yet was told nothing about the type of dysfunctional behavior that the defendant now claims occurred.

As for the PTSD claim, Rymer cited evidence that showed Payton saw no combat in Vietnam, having been removed from service 22 days after he arrived because of drug abuse. If the jury had known that, Rymer reasoned, they would have given the PTSD claim little weight as it “was sheer invention.”

Rymer concluded that even if jurors heard all of the evidence as framed by the defense, it would not have changed the death penalty verdict. As Payton writes, “The crimes here were vicious.”

Judges Ronald M. Gould and Johnnie Rawlinson concurred.

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