Nov 17

Tregeagle goes to San Quentin

July 15, 1971
Death penalty trials are grim stories.tregeagle-7-15-71.jpgOver the last 20 years I have worked at the paper I have covered portions of 3 of the 4 active county death row stories.In 1971 there was a wave of 3 death penalty convictions within 9 months.Joseph Deb Tregeagle was convicted of murdering a 17-year-old Van Nuys boy at Montaña de Oro State Park.Quoting from staff writer Walt Beesley’s story,

While courthouse employees stared intently out of their windows, convicted murder Joseph Deb Tregeagle was led unceremoniously from the county jail Wednesday to a waiting sheriff’s car which whisked him away to San Quentin’s Death Row.The route to San Quentin was the same taken by two other slayers convicted here within the last nine months.Tregeagle’s predecessors were Andrew Herschel Gay, 26, of Fresno.Gay was convicted last March of the slayings of Eve Hindin, 19, of Laurelton, N.Y. and John Volpi, 18, of Van Nuys, both hitchhikers.Coincidentally, it was Ronald Allen Payton, another Van Nuys hitchhiker, who became Tregeagle’s victim.Archa was convicted last December of the murders of a Shandon couple and their four-year-old daughter.

tregeagle-3.jpgThe picture here shows when the jail was under the old courthouse on Osos Street.I am assuming the guy with the hat and cigarette holder was the reporter Walt Beesley.There was no courtroom picture because cameras were not allowed in California courtrooms until the mid 1980’s. If you wanted a picture you had to wait outside the courthouse or the jail for the convict to be walked to the car.treagle.jpgFor those researching the topic the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has a good overview of the history of the Death Penalty in California.Tregeagle was fortunate to be convicted when he was, according to the CDC website: “In 1972, the California Supreme Court found that the death penalty constituted cruel and unusual punishment under the state constitution. As a result, 107 individuals had their sentences changed to other than death.”Charles Manson and Tex Watson were among those with commuted sentences; Manson and Watson have had parole hearings but are still in prison.At onepoint Watson was incarcerated at CMC.Fellow Manson family member Bruce Davis is still at CMC and though he has had over a dozen parole hearings but has not been released. Tregeagle likely had his sentence commuted and was atsome point paroled.Joseph Deb Tregeagle is a unique name and it turns up again in a ruling from February 1992 United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. The criminal history appears to match and in this ruling Tregeagle is sentenced to 18 months in prison for possession of a firearm. He claimed took the gun from his nephew, preventing his nephew from doing harm with the gun. Appeals court judges upheld the conviction.Times have changed and we have fewer death penalty cases today. The Tregeagle trial took about 5 days and he was bound for Death row a little over 7 months after the crime.Capital punishment trials now can take years to prepare and months to try. It isn’t that prosecutors have become softer.There are now specific circumstances that must be met to qualify for capital punishment and more stringent procedures. Conviction is only the start of a long appeals process. The system has slowed down in the wake of revelations that courts have convicted and executed the innocent. This system also delays final judgment for the guilty.San Luis Obispo County now has four men on death row:

  • 2001 – Rex Krebs for killing two local college students
  • 1996 – Michael Whisenhunt for torturing and killing a 20-month-oldgirl
  • 1988 – Dennis Webb, who murdered an Atascadero couple
  • 1986 – Richard Allen Benson, who killed a Nipomo mother and her three children.
  • As of midnight November 5, 2008 there were 628 condemned men in San Quentinwith 637 beds available. There were 15 condemned women at the Central California Women’s Facility with design capacity of 17.Whether you are for or against the death penalty a report released in the summer of 2008 states that the largest and slowest death row in America has broken down costing taxpayers millions of dollars. Today more California death row inmates die of old age than execution.Wayne Nicholls made the photos.

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