November 21, 2009

Death penalty for the accused killer of Rylan Fuchs? Wouldn’t be usual, says DA

The 19-year-old Berkeley man, arrested in the January 20 pot-robbery killing of Danville teen Rylan Fuchs, is facing murder charges that carry special circumstances, because the killing took place during the commission of an attempted robbery. Authorities believe that Fuchs was selling marijuana, and Walter Bell went to his home to rob him of his pot. The special circumstances mean that if Bell were convicted of murder, he could face the death penalty.

Prosecutors have not decided yet whether they will seek lethal injection for Bell, who is being held without bail.

However, Harold Jewett, the prosecutor in charge of the D.A.'s office homicide division, says, in an e-mail to me, that it would be “unusual for us to do so in a case where the defendant is young and where the shooting may not have been intentional.”

Jewett told the Contra Costa Times that Bell says he fired the single, fatal shot--which struck Fuchs in the throat—as Bell was trying to rob Fuchs of marijuana.

“Put it another way,” Jewett continued in his e-mail. “A jury is unlikely to impose the death penalty unless they know beyond question that the defendant intentionally and personally took the victim’s life.”

I appreciate Jewett getting back to me. Actually, I didn’t contact him to ask him specifically about whether his office would seek the death penalty against Bell, but on a closely related issue.

I read about the special circumstances charges against Bell, and the possibility of the death penalty, and that got me thinking and wondering.

Fuchs’ father, Bill Fuchs of Alamo, questions whether his son was selling pot and whether police are using the marijuana-deal-gone-bad excuse to preserve Danville’s image.

I’m sorry for Mr. Fuchs loss, but, unfortunately, it does look like Rylan, a senior at San Ramon Valley High, in fact died in a drug deal gone bad.

And that drug-deal-gone bad scenario is what got me ruminating about the death penalty issue, possibly in this case, but in general. Drug deals gone bad are regular occurrences, if not in safe, affluent suburbs like Danville, then in tough neighborhoods in towns like Oakland, Richmond, and in the unincorporated community of North Richmond. Some of those drug deals gone bad result in homicides, and, more likely than not, the killers and their victims are minorities.

I contacted Jewett because I began to wonder if the special circumstances and the death penalty talk was being applied to the Fuchs case because 1) the killing happened in Danville; 2) the victim is white; and 3) the defendant is African-American. Yes, I wondered if race and class bias were coming into play in this case.

Racial disparity in death penalty prosecutions and in sentencing is a huge issue, in California and around the United States. Many of us have probably heard that minorities are more likely to be executed than whites for murder in the United States. But what many might not know is that more recent studies have pointed to another racial difference between who lives and who dies at the hands of the state: the color of the victim. As a USA Today editorial says:

While blacks and whites are murdered in roughly equal numbers in the United States, the killers of white people are six times as likely to be put to death, according to a statistical analysis by Amnesty International USA. It found that of 845 people executed since the United States resumed capital punishment in 1977, 80 percent were put to death for killing whites, while only 13 percent were executed for killing blacks.
So, my mind was on this track yesterday morning, and I wondered whether this racial disparity applies in Contra Costa special circumstances prosecutions, and whether it would apply to the prosecution of Walter Bell case. Would an African-American defendant, who shot and killed an African-American victim, in a similar kind of drug-deal-gone bad in North Richmond, be charged, like Bell, with special circumstances and face the death penalty. The racial breakdown for defendants and victims in Contra Costa capital cases was not available yesterday, and may not be readily available.

But I e-mailed Jewett, and he provided this response:
“Walter Bell is a young black male. Rylan Fuchs was a young white male. In this county, we have prosecuted white defendants for killing white victims; white defendants for killing black victims; black defendants for killing white victims; and black defendants killing black victims. Of course there are also permutations with other ethnic groups, primarily Hispanic and Asian. I would say imposition of the death penalty is roughly equal between cases with white and black defendants, and cases with white and black victims. I don’t see a pattern there.”

And then he addressed Bell’s prosecution specifically and how “I cannot whether this office will seek the death penalty in the Bell case.”

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Soccer Mom,
Thank you for this article and pointing out the racial bias that exists in the death penalty. I long ago became an opponent of the death penalty, long before much news came out about wrongful convictions, but mostly on this issue of racial disparity, and how African Americans and other minorities receive this sentence more than whites. Thanks for pointing out the information about how the race of the victim is also a major factor in who gets sentenced to death and who doesn't.

rahrfk said...

As a SRVHS student, I can imagine that if this issue gets publicized enough that us students/our parents can't ignore it, it will incite some vitriolic reactions.

Anonymous said...

This is etory is absurd and a tired tired topic. Typical white guilt. Look around....white people are a minority in the east bay. We have a black president.

When will people around here quit looking for racism with every incident that happens between people of different ethnicities. It was a bad drug deal. Danville is very close to Berkeley and Oakland. Why is it surprising that people from these areas wouldn't ever come into contact with each other...especially if they share common interests...in this case drugs?

There are way more interesting things to write about locally...like all the foreclosures and short sales happening in Alamo and Danville right now.

Anonymous said...

I agree with 4:24, but I would also add that we should examine the death penalty in the context the many convicts that have been exonerated 10, 15, even 20 years after their convictions.

I will adamantly oppose the death penalty until someone can guarantee that no innocent person will be killed. Texas executed Cameron Todd Willingham, who was likely innocent.

Anonymous said...

I was friends with Rylan. As much as you may think its a tired subject, it's not to those who knew and loved him. This isn't about racism. This is about finding the killer of someone people loved.

Crusader said...

You fucking whore. I've seen enough of you to know you're a traitorous cuntrag who pities violent minorities over dead white kids. You're nothin new, but the people of this area have had just about enough of you. I'd like to see how evenminded you'd be if it was your kid who was shot. Please, get the fuck out of our town. You hate our culture of safety and cleanliness so. The get the fuck out! Go to richmond or whatever other self-imposed minority hellhole you like. I hope you're gangrapex. Then you can testify on your assaulters behalf as to why minorities are unfairly targeted by the system. They're targeted because they commit all the fucking crime you stupid bitch. I hope you know that people in this area, just trying to raise their kids, never harmed a person in their lives, are being transformed into an enraged mob because of the crimes, but even more because of people like you who show no respect for our area, our wAy of life, and even a murdered child as you have in previous articles. You are the reason we know we have to buy guns to protect our wAy of life, because people like you want to flood in endless minority criminals and then get mad at us for trying to stop it. So that's a big fuck you bitch. Good people despise you. You are despised.

Anonymous said...

you are racist if you give leaway to one race because in the past they have been mistreated. it doesnt matter that ry was white and walter was black. no one should be looking at that! he shot and KILLED Rylan who was a nice kid. doesnt matter the race. no one should be sympathetic becuz hes black and they assume ry was a stuck up white rich kid cuz he wasnt.YOU CANT BLAME WHAT OTHER BAD THINGS WHITE PEOPLE DID ON A MURDERED INNOCENT BOY. he was the sweetest person with such a huge heart. so leave race out of it and look at the facts placed before you and maybe do a little more research before you say anthing else.

Anonymous said...

I am a former student in Rylan's class in Alamo. In this case it was about race but not between the killer and his victim. The racial issue is that the victim's mother brought a black career criminal to live with her and her children in Danville. This is a man she met in jail after she was arrested on domestic violence charges after she assualted her disabled husband with a knife. By bringing crime into her home she partcipated in a racial crime. Children often view their parents behavior as a model to model their behavior after. If Rylan's mother did not bring a black criminal into her home Rylan may not have resorted to selling drugs as his mom's boyfriend does.

I know the family and know that Rylan's father is a stand-up guy who cares for his children and would never place them in harms way. It is time to hold the Contra Costa family Court sytem responible for this murder too.

Friend not some opionated fuck said...

If u dont know anythig bout this than please just shut up and share your opinion elsewhere, im a very good friemd of Ry and half yall just sound dumb, race really? And fuck u to may 3 anyonmous ron is OG triple go fall off somethig tall

Anonymous said...

He didn't get the death penalty and niether would a white kid these days. Speaking of statistics, did the writer mention that blacks are involved in 54 % of US murders. No 17 year old deserves to be murdered.