CALIFORNIA — It has been 14 years since California executed an inmate on death row, but a COVID-19 infection at San Quentin State Prison may have led to the 5th death of a death row inmate on the 4th of July, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Out of the near 4,000 inmates, San Quentin holds, more than 1300 prisoners and 120 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. Since June 25, five inmates on death row have died, potentially due to COVID-19.
On July 4, 59-year-old Dewayne Michael Carey was pronounced dead at an outside hospital, as the CDCR reports. While the exact cause of his death is undetermined, complications leading to his death are believed to be COVID-19 related.
Carey was sentenced to the death penalty for first-degree murder after stabbing Ernestine Campbell to death in her home. He was connected to the murder after stolen property was found and being seen leaving Campbell’s home.
On July 3, the CDRC announced the deaths of condemned inmates Scott Thomas Erskine, 57, and Manuel Machado Alvarez, 59, who both died from complications related to COVID-19. Both deaths also occurred at an outside hospital.
Erskine was convicted for two counts of first-degree murder after initially serving a 70-year sentence for rape and sexual assault. Alvarez was sentenced to death row after being convicted for rape, vehicle theft, and robbery.
Two other inmate deaths have occurred amidst the COVID-19 infection at San Quentin.
On July 1, the CDRC announced the death of 75-year-old Joseph Cordova. Cordova was initially found unresponsive in his cell and was shortly after declared dead. There were no signs of trauma. Cordova was sentenced after murdering and raping an eight-year-old girl in her home.
The CDRC announced the death of 71-year-old Richard Stitely on June 24. With no signs of trauma, Stitely was found unresponsive in his cell and was soon after pronounced dead. Stitely was sentenced after murdering Carol Unger, whose body was found in a parking lot the next day.
San Quentin is the oldest prison in California, and as Assemblyman Marc Levine told CBS San Francisco, “it’s got old grill cells, they’re not closed doors.” Levine says this lack of closed doors is what allowed COVID-19 to spread rampantly throughout the prison.
Although Governor Gavin Newsom issued a moratorium last year that dismantled San Quentin’s death chamber, California still sentences prisoners the death penalty.
According to the CDRC, 721 people are on death row in San Quentin Prison.