After 30 years on California death row, man’s conviction is overturned

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — After 30 years on death row, a man convicted of three murders during a crime wave in San Diego has been given a new trial.

Billy Ray Waldon, circa 1985. (FBI)
Billy Ray Waldon, circa 1985. (FBI)

The California Supreme Court on Monday vacated the convictions and death sentence of Billy Ray Waldon and ordered a new trial. The judges unanimously ruled that a trial judge improperly allowed Waldon to represent himself at trial despite evidence that his ability to think clearly was impaired.

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

The December 1985 crime wave for which he was convicted included three murders in San Diego. Dawn Ellerman was fatally shot on December 7 at her home, which was later burned down; her 13-year-old daughter, Erin Ellerman, died of smoke inhalation after entering the burning home to try to save her mother. On December 20, Gordon Wells was fatally shot while working on his car.

Waldon was also charged with shooting a Wells neighbor, raping a woman and pickpocketing four others.

After ballistic evidence connected the San Diego attacks to earlier shootings in Oklahoma, a federal warrant was issued against 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 for driving a car with a broken brake light.

A 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 the evidence that Waldon suffered from paranoia and delusions and was not competent to bring conduct their own defence, the Supreme Court said. He said the court ruling.

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

Waldon said he had managed to escape his pursuer in December 1985 and, after learning he was wanted for murder, was living in the basement below an Imperial Beach house.

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