Disclaimer: This is not like any blog I have posted before. I am breaking one of my sacred rules. I never talk about politics. Politics piss me off, and I have never seen any political conversations that actually sway someone's opinion when people believe so strongly one way or the other. So I avoid them at all costs. However, this is personal. This blog contains my personal experience with violent crime and my personal beliefs about the death penalty. I am warning you ahead of time; this blog is raw, violent, and controversial. Read at your own risk.
"Mom wants you to walk me over to my friend's house," my little brother came into my room interrupting my reading.
"Why can't you go by yourself?"
"Because mom said you have to go with me."
I sighed and put my book down knowing it would be useless to argue with him. I was a sophomore in high school and he was in the sixth grade, and my mom had never liked either of us to be outside alone. As we walked, he told me that he had met a new friend at school who lived on the street behind us, and they had agreed to meet and play after school that day. When we got there, my brother rang the bell, and I was surprised to see a girl from my high school open the door. It wasn't just any girl. It was Terri Lynn Winchell. She was one of the most popular girls at our school. She wasn't just beautiful to look at, but she had a reputation for being incredibly nice as well.
Terri smiled and said "You must be Brian's friend. Come in." She looked at me and asked me if I wanted to come in too. I told her I was just dropping my brother off. She thought I looked familiar, and I told her we went to the same high school. She said, "Why don't you come in. We can talk while our brothers play." I was a little nervous, but I joined her in the kitchen where we sat at the small dining room table and spent the afternoon chatting away. We laughed and talked about teachers, classes, brothers, and boyfriends. We found out that we both liked to sing at church and we were both altos. We also liked to play tennis. When it was time to go, she asked me if I wanted to meet that weekend to play tennis at our neighborhood park. I told her I would love to. She also told me to come back anytime. I left thinking I had just found a new friend too.
At school the next day, I saw her and wondered whether or not I should say anything. Seniors often teased each other for talking to lower classmen. That wasn't Terri though. She waved and said "Hi Michelle! See you this weekend for tennis!" I smiled and waved back. I looked for her at school on Friday, but I didn't see her. On Saturday, I put on some shorts and a t-shirt and got my tennis racquet ready while my brother called to see if Terri and her brother were ready to go to the park. He came in to tell me that they weren't going to be able to go with us. When I pressed him for details, he said he didn't know why just that they weren't going to be able to go with us to the park. I was so disappointed. I couldn't imagine Terri doing anything that would get her in trouble. Maybe she was sick since I didn't see her at school on Friday. I tried not to think about it and decided I would ask her about it at school. On Monday, I got to first period and we were told there was going to be a special assembly in the gym. All the students were trying to guess what the reason for the assembly could be. After we were all seated, the principal told us that Terri Lynn Winchell had been murdered and counselors were available to talk to us if we needed. My body went cold and my mouth was dry. It became difficult to breathe. I could hear many of her friends screaming and crying, but I was too shocked to do anything. Most of the students just stared off into space trying to process what they had just heard. Over the next few weeks, we learned Terri's fate, and our lives would never be the same.
Terri was dating "Steve," a young man who was attending the local junior college. She was introduced to him by her best friend, "Charlene" who was dating one of "Steve's" friends, 19-year-old Ricky Ortega. She thought it would be fun for them to double date, but Ricky was often mean to Terri and didn't like when she was included in their activities. Terri tried everything she could think of to get along with Ricky for "Charlene's" and "Steve's" sake. What Terri and "Charlene" didn't know is that Ricky and "Steve" were having a homosexual relationship and Ricky was becoming increasingly more jealous of "Steve's" relationship with Terri. "Steve" had tried to break off his relationship with Ricky, but Ricky had threatened him including breaking his windows at 1:00am one morning. Steve was afraid and didn't know how to tell Terri or end his relationship with Ricky.
Ricky's jealousy grew, and he decided that the only way he could be happy was if Terri were dead. He didn't want to kill her himself, so he called his cousin, Michael Morales. Michael was a known gang member and no stranger to violence. He agreed to help Ricky and started to formulate a plan. Michael decided that he would strangle Terri and started practicing with a belt. When he believed he had mastered his strangulation technique, Ricky and Michael put their plan into action. Ricky called Terri and told her that he wanted to try to improve their relationship because they both cared about "Charlene." Ricky asked Terri to help him pick out a gift for "Charlene." Terri was eager to mend fences and agreed to go with Ricky to get a gift for her best friend. On Thursday, January 8,1981, Ricky arrived at Terri's house with Michael in the backseat. He had the belt he had been practicing with, a claw hammer and a 7 inch kitchen knife. Terri got in the car and the trio set off. While Ricky drove to a rural area a few miles from town, Michael attacked wrapping the belt around Terri's neck. She screamed for Ricky to help her, but he ignored her pleas as Morales told him to keep driving. She fought for her life. Her fingernails gouging chunks of flesh out of her own neck and tearing patches of hair from her head. She fought so hard, the belt broke. Michael picked up the claw hammer and hit Terri in the head, not once, not twice, but 23 times crushing the base of her skull and causing defensive wounds to her arms and hands as she tried to ward off the blows. The cousins pulled off the road where Michael dragged Terri's unconscious body from the car and into a nearby vineyard. Michael told his cousin that is was a shame to waste "a good piece of ass." He told Ricky to leave them alone and come back in 15 minutes. Morales turned Terri over, stripped off her pants, pushed her shirt and bra up around her neck and raped her in the dirt. When he was finished, he stabbed her in the chest four times to make sure she was dead. Terri Lynn Winchell had lost the fight for her life. Ricky Ortega and Michael Morales left her naked and bloody in that vineyard. Ricky drove Michael home where he got drunk on the beer and wine he had bought with the $11.00 from Terri's purse. Ricky picked up "Steve" and had sex with him in the car.
Terri's mother was able to direct the police to Ricky when Terri didn't come home. He quickly confessed, and they went to Michael's apartment where they found the broken belt with Terri's blood on it hidden under his mattress. The blood splattered floor mats from the car were in the trash and the bloody hammer was in the refrigerator vegetable crisper. He still had Terri's purse and credit card with him. Two years later, Morales was found guilty of murder with the special circumstances of lying in wait, or planning the killing in advance, and murder by torture. He was sent to death row. Ricky received life without parole.
In 2006, executions in California came to a halt when the lawyers for the next death row inmate to get a lethal injection were able to get it stopped based on the fact that having 3 separate injections was cruel and unusual punishment. What if the inmate woke up? What if he felt pain? Executions are still on hold to this day because of that. Who was the death row inmate who has been able to put his death off another six years? Michael Morales. Twenty five years after he brutally murdered Terri Lynn Winchell, he has been able to extend his life another six years with the "cruel and unusual punishment" of the lethal injection argument. The irony is so thick you can choke on it. It would be funny if it weren't so ridiculous.
This November, they have pushed to have the death penalty back on the California ballot again having the balls to call it SAFE California. It is mostly fueled by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Their reasoning? It will save money because of all the court costs for appeals. What they don't want to tell you is that the ACLU is the one mostly responsible for clogging the courts with appeals and driving up the costs. Don't believe me? Look it up. They also don't want people to know that commuting the current 725 death row inmates' sentences to life without parole is going to cost taxpayers approximately $34,147,210 a year using the latest estimate of the cost to care for a prisoner in California. They are trying to lull people into a false sense of security by saying that the death row inmates will not be eligible for parole. However, that is not always the case. Former California governor Edmund "Pat" Brown commuted the sentences of 23 death row inmates changing their sentences to life without parole. At least 2 of those prisoners, Eddie Wein and Norman Whitehorn, did eventually get parole anyway. Both were longtime violent sexual predators and murderers. Within months of their parole, Norman Whitehorn raped and murdered Donna Jean Hooker, and Eddie Wein had raped and murdered Dorothy George by strangling her and dumping her body in a bathtub.
The death penalty in this state is only sought after in extreme circumstances. The prosecution has to prove that the murder was premeditated. Some notable death sentences with adjudicated special circumstances:
Lawrence Bittaker - raped, tortured and killed five teenage girls.
Richard "the Nightstalker" Ramirez - murdered 13 people in Los Angeles, sexually assaulting, torturing and mutilating many of his victims.
Richard Allen Davis - kidnapped, raped, and strangled 12-year-old Polly Klaas.
Robert Rhoades - serial killer who kidnapped, raped, tortured and murdered 8-year-old Michael Lyons as he walked home from school.
These are the types of violent criminals the ACLU wants to save. Many of the death penalty opponents hold up signs saying that all life is sacred, and I agree with that. Terri was a straight A student who sang in her church and Michael Morales was a gang member living a life of drugs and violence. Before he killed her, if you had asked me if Terri's life was more important than Michael's, I would have said no. However, I believe that if you plan to kill another human being and you carry out that plan, you forfeit your right to live in a civilized society, and those offenders should be shown the same mercy they allotted to their victims. The impact of his actions has also had a devastating effect on Terri's family. Her mother has never recovered and her brothers continue to fight in court long after they should have been able to have some peace and try to somehow move on.
Michael Morales has the ACLU and a bunch of anti death penalty people waving signs who haven't even bothered to find out why he was given that sentence in the first place. So who is going to stand up for Terri and the other victims of these violent (and in some cases repeat) offenders?