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Court Voids 30-Year-Old CA Death Sentence Over Self-Representation

A 1992 death sentence of a man convicted of a series of murders and robberies was pardoned by the California Supreme Court on Monday because he was allowed to represent himself at trial even though a psychological examination found he likely suffered from a delusional thought disorder, according to Courthouse News Service. The court vacated Billy Ray Waldon's conviction and sentence. The trial judge who allowed Waldon to represent himself, the court said, had been wrong to reverse the decision by another judge finding that Waldon didn't rationally perceive his situation and didn't realize the risks and consequences of not having a defense lawyer representing him. "Judge Boyle abused his discretion by overturning Judge Zumwalt’s [decision] while intentionally ignoring her findings and the bases for her decision, and by ignoring relevant evidence, including testimony from three mental health experts that caused Judge Zumwalt to conclude that Waldon was not competent to ... waive counsel or represent himself," Associate Justice Goodwin Liu wrote, referring to the two trial judges. The reasons Waldon gave for wanting to represent himself offered no indication that he 'actually' appreciated the 'significance and consequences' of that decision," Liu said.


Waldon, who is imprisoned in San Quentin, was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder, as well as attempted murder, rape, burglary, seven counts of robbery, and two counts of animal cruelty. The Oklahoma native was accused of going on a two-week crime spree in San Diego in 1985, including shooting a woman and killing her daughter by setting their house on fire, raping a woman in her apartment, and robbing four other women on separate occasions. When police tried to arrest him, he fled and killed a man nearby. The crime spree landed Waldon on the FBI's most wanted list. He was arrested after he tried to flee police who had stopped him for a traffic violation. He argued that federal agents framed him for the crimes to thwart his efforts to promote world peace, spread new languages, and advance Cherokee autonomy. Waldon founded the World Esperanto Organization and the World Poliespo Organization, which he claimed was a “rapid thinking” language that he invented by combining Esperanto and Cherokee. Waldon asked his first trial judge to dismiss his lawyers. A court-appointed psychiatrist concluded that he did not appreciate the ramifications of waiving counsel. Although Waldon was found competent to stand trial, the judge denied his request to represent himself. The next year, the case was assigned to a different judge. He renewed his bid to represent himself, offering sworn declarations from people who knew him from Esperanto classes and conferences. The judge found these a "testament" to Waldon's intelligence and competence.

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