California Supreme Court upholds death sentence in 1996 murder

The California Supreme Court in San Francisco Thursday unanimously upheld the death sentence of a man who murdered a 20-year-old woman in her Oakland apartment in 1996.

Grayland Winbush, 40, was convicted in Alameda County Superior Court in 2003 and given the death penalty for murdering Erika Beeson during a robbery on the evening of Dec. 22, 1996.

Beeson was found beaten, strangled with a belt and stabbed. Her boyfriend’s shotgun, some marijuana and other items were missing.

Winbush, then 19, who grew up in South Berkeley, had been released 10 days earlier from the California Youth Authority, where he spent four years in custody after being arrested for driving a stolen car.

Police later found that Winbush’s ankle monitoring bracelet was disconnected between the evening of the murder and Christmas Day.

Beeson’s boyfriend, Mario Botello, and other witnesses at the trial testified that Winbush had asked Botello several times to get him a gun he could use in a robbery, and that Botello sought to put him off. Botello was out Christmas shopping at the time of the slaying.

Winbush’s brother-in-law, Norman Patterson, who admitted being present at the murder, was tried and convicted in the same trial and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Winbush was arrested in May 1997 after Patterson was apprehended for a gas station robbery. Patterson admitted to police that he was in Beeson’s apartment but maintained that Winbush was the perpetrator of the murder.

After being told of Patterson’s statement and waiving his right to have a lawyer present, Winbush confessed to police that he had carried out the stabbing, but said Patterson participated in the strangling. The confession was played for the jury at the trial.

In his appeal, Winbush claimed his confession was coerced.

But the state high court’s seven justices said they agreed with the trial judge’s conclusion that the admission was not forced.

Justice Carol Corrigan wrote for the court:

“After reviewing the evidence concerning the confession, “We independently conclude defendant’s statements were not coerced by express or implied promises of leniency.”

The panel also rejected Winbush’s appeal claims of errors in jury selection.

Winbush can continue appeals through habeas corpus petitions in the state and federal courts.

There are now more than 700 California inmates on Death Row, with cases in various stages of appeal. Executions in the state have been on hold since 2006 because of federal and state court rulings and lawsuits.

In November, California voters passed an initiative intended to speed up the process of appeals in death penalty cases. The measure has been challenged in a federal lawsuit.