Women on California's Death Row

20 Infamous Female Inmates Sentenced to Be Executed for their Crimes

A cell on "Death Row"

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Many of the high-profile murders that make up salacious fodder for our voracious 24/7 media cycle are committed by men—but that doesn't mean women don't commit their fair share of heinous crimes as well. The women profiled here are some of the California penitentiary system's most notorious death row inmates, all convicted and sentenced to be executed for their despicable deeds.​

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Maria del Rosio Alfaro

Rosie Alfaro

Mug Shot / Public Domain

María del Rosio Alfaro was an 18-year-old addict when in June 1990, she entered the home of a friend with the intention of robbing it to get money to support her drug habit. The only person home was her friend's sister, 9-year-old Autumn Wallace.

Wallace recognized Alfaro and allowed her inside the family's Anaheim home when Alfaro asked to use the bathroom. Once inside, Alfaro stabbed the girl more than 50 times and left her to die on the bathroom floor. She then went around grabbing anything that she could swap or sell for drugs.

Fingerprint evidence led investigators to Alfaro. She eventually confessed to murdering Autumn Wallace, saying that she'd done it because she knew the child had recognized her as her sister's friend.

Initially insisting that she'd carried out the murder by herself, Alfaro changed her story during her trial and pointed the finger at an accomplice named Beto. It took two juries to decide on a sentence. The first jury wanted to know more about Beto's identity before reaching a verdict. The second jury didn't buy the Beto story at all and sentenced Alfaro to death.

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Dora Buenrostro

Dora Buenrostro

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Dora Buenrostro, from San Jacinto, California, was 34 years old when she murdered her three children in an attempt to get even with her ex-husband.

On October 25, 1994, Buenrostro stabbed her 4-year-old daughter Deidra to death with a knife and a ballpoint pen as they were in a car traveling to her ex-husband's home. Two days later, she murdered her two other children, Susana, 9, and Vicente, 8, by plunging a knife into their necks as they slept.

She then tried to frame her ex-husband by telling the police that Deidra had been with him the week she was murdered and that her ex-husband had come to her apartment with a knife on the night the two other children were killed. She told police the children were asleep, and fearing for her life, she fled the apartment.

Deidra's body was later found at an abandoned post office. A portion of the knife blade was still in her neck, and she was strapped into her car seat. Buenrostro was found guilty after 90 minutes of deliberation. She was sentenced to death on October 2, 1998. 

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Socorro 'Cora' Caro

Socorro Caro

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Socorro "Cora" Caro was sentenced to death in Ventura County, California on April 5, 2002, for the shooting deaths of her three sons, Xavier Jr., 11; Michael, 8; and Christopher, 5. The boys were shot in the head at close range while they slept. Caro then shot herself in the head in an attempted suicide. A fourth infant son was unharmed.

According to prosecutors, Socorro Caro methodically planned and executed the boys as an act of revenge against her husband, Dr. Xavier Caro, whom she blamed for their failing marriage. 

Dr. Xavier Caro and several other witnesses testified that prior to the November 2, 1999 murders of the boys, Socorro Caro had inflicted several injuries to her husband on eight occasions, including seriously injuring his eye. 

Describing himself as a victim of domestic violence, Dr.Caro testified that on the night of the murders, the couple argued over how to discipline one of the boys. He then left to work for a few hours at his clinic. When he returned home at around 11 p.m., he found his wife and the bodies of the children.

Court testimony showed that the Caros' marriage began falling apart after Socorro became the office manager at her husband's medical clinic and secretly took money from the clinic and gave it to her aging parents.

The jury deliberated five days before returning the guilty verdict and recommending the death penalty. 

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Celeste Carrington

Celeste Simone Carrington

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Celeste Carrington was 32 years old when she was sent to California's death row for the execution-style murders of a man and a woman during two separate burglaries, and the attempted murder of a third victim during another burglary.

In 1992, Carrington had been employed as a janitor for several companies prior to being fired for theft. After leaving her position, she failed to return several keys to the companies where she'd worked. On January 17, 1992, Carrington broke into one of the companies—a car dealership—and stole (among other items) a .357 Magnum revolver and some bullets.

On January 26, 1992, using a key, she broke into another company, and armed with the gun she'd previously stolen, she encountered Victor Esparza who was working as a janitor. After a brief exchange, Carrington robbed and shot Esparza, who died of his wounds. Carrington later told investigators that she had intended to kill Esparza and felt powerful and excited by the experience.

On March 11, 1992, Carrington entered yet another company where she'd previously worked as a janitor, again using a key. Armed with the revolver, she shot and killed Caroline Gleason—who was on her knees, begging Carrington to put away the gun. Carrington proceded to steal around $700 and Gleason's car.

On March 16, 1992, again using a key from her former janitorial job, Carrington broke into a doctor's office. During the robbery, she encountered Dr. Allan Marks. She shot Dr. Marks three times before fleeing the building. Marks survived and later testified against Carrington.

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Cynthia Lynn Coffman

Cynthia Coffman

Mug Shot / Public Domain

Cynthia Lynn Coffman was only 23 when she was sentenced to death for the 1986 kidnapping, sodomy, robbery, and murder of 20-year-old Corinna Novis in San Bernardino County and for the death of 19-year-old Lynel Murray in Orange County.

Coffman and her husband, James Gregory "Folsom Wolf" Marlow were both convicted and sentenced to death for the murders that occurred during a crime spree from October through November 1986.

Coffman later claimed that she was a victim of abuse and that Marlow brainwashed, beat, and starved her in order to get her to participate in the crimes. She was the first women to receive a death sentence in California since the state reinstated the death penalty in 1977.

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Kerry Lyn Dalton

Kerry Lyn Dalton

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On June 26, 1988, Kerry Lyn Dalton's ex-roommate, Irene Melanie May, was tortured and murdered by Dalton and two accomplices in retribution for the alleged theft by May of some items belonging to Dalton.

After May was tied to a chair, Dalton injected her with a syringe of battery acid. Co-defendant Sheryl Baker battered May with a cast iron frying pan, and then Baker and co-defendant, Mark Tompkins, stabbed May to death. Later, Tompkins and a fourth individual, who was only identified as "George," cut up and disposed of May's body, which was never found.

On November 13, 1992, Dalton, Tompkins, and Baker were charged with conspiracy to commit murder. Baker pled guilty to second-degree murder. Tompkins pled guilty to first-degree murder. At Dalton's trial, which began in early 1995, Baker served as a witness for the prosecution. Tompkins did not testify at trial but the prosecution presented statements by him from the testimony of one of his cellmates.

On February 24, 1995, the jury found Dalton guilty of conspiracy to commit murder. She received a sentence of death on May 23, 1995. 

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Susan Eubanks

Susan Eubanks

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On October 26, 1997, Susan Eubanks and her live-in boyfriend Rene Dodson were drinking and watching a Chargers game at a local bar when they began to argue. When they returned home, Dodson told Eubanks he was ending the relationship and tried to leave, but Eubanks took his car keys and slashed his tires.

Dodson contacted the police and asked if they would accompany him to the house so that he could retrieve his belongings. After Dodson and the police left, Eubanks wrote five suicide letters: one to Dodson, one to her estranged husband, Eric Eubanks, and the rest to family members. Afterward, Eubanks shot her four sons, ages 4 to 14, and then shot herself in the stomach.

Earlier in the day, Dodson warned Eric Eubanks that Susan had threatened to kill the boys. Later when he received a text from Susan with the words, "Say goodbye," he contacted the police and asked them to perform a welfare check.

The police went to Eubanks' home and heard sobbing coming from inside. Inside, they found Eubanks with gunshot wounds to her stomach along with four of her sons who had had all been shot. One of the boys was still alive but later died at the hospital. A fifth boy, Eubanks' 5-year-old nephew, was unharmed.

Prosecutors claim that Eubanks murdered the boys out of rage but part of the crime was premeditated. It was determined that Eubanks shot the boys in the head multiple times and had to reload the gun to finish the job.

After two hours of deliberation, a jury found Eubanks guilty. She was sentenced to death in San Marcos, California, on October 13, 1999.

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Veronica Gonzales

Veronica Gonzales

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When Genny Rojas was 4 years old her mother went into drug rehab. Her father was already in prison, having been convicted for child molestation. Genny was sent to live with her aunt and uncle, Ivan and Veronica Gonzales, and their six children.

Six months later, Genny was dead.

According to court testimony, Genny was tortured by the methamphetamine-addicted Gonzales couple for months. She was beaten, hung on a hook inside a closet, starved, imprisoned inside a box, forced into hot baths, and burned multiple times with a hairdryer.

On July 21, 1995, Genny died after being forced into a tub of water that was so hot that her skin was burned off in several areas of her body. According to autopsy reports, it took up to two hours for the child to slowly die.

Ivan and Veronica Gonzales were found guilty of torture and murder. Both got the death sentence, making them the first couple in the history of California to receive the dubious distinction.

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Maureen McDermott

Maureen McDermott

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Maureen McDermott was convicted of ordering the 1985 murder of Stephen Eldridge for financial gain. The two co-owned a Van Nuys home and McDermott held a $100,000 life insurance policy on Eldridge.

According to court transcripts, in early 1985, McDermott's relationship with Eldridge deteriorated. Eldridge complained about the unkempt condition of the house and about McDermott's pets. McDermott was upset about Eldridge's treatment of her pets and his plans to sell his interest in the house. 

In late February 1985, McDermott asked Jimmy Luna, a co-worker and personal friend, to kill Eldridge in exchange for $50,000. McDermott told Luna to carve the word "gay" on the body with a knife or cut off Eldridge's penis so that it would look like a "homosexual" murder and police would take less of an interest in solving the case.

In March 1985, Luna and accomplice Marvin Lee went to Eldridge's home and attacked him when he answered the door. Luna hit him with a bedpost but failed to kill him. They fled the scene after Eldridge managed to escape.

Over the next few weeks, McDermott and Luna exchanged several phone calls. On April 28, 1985, Luna, Lee, and Lee's brother, Dondell returned to Eldridge's home, gaining entry through a front bedroom window that had been left open for them by McDermott. When Eldridge returned home later that evening, Luna stabbed him 44 times, killing him, and then, following McDermott's orders, he cut off the victim's penis.

On July 2, 1985, Luna was arrested for the first-degree murder of Eldridge. In August 1985, McDermott was also arrested. She was charged with attempted murder (for the first attempt) as well as murder for the actual killing. She was also charged under special circumstance allegations with murder for financial gain and lying in wait. 

Marvin and Dondell Lee were granted immunity for the murder of Eldridge in exchange for their confessions and truthful testimony. Luna also entered into a plea agreement under which he pled guilty to first-degree murder and agreed to testify truthfully in the prosecution against McDermott.

A jury convicted Maureen McDermott of one count of murder and one count of attempted murder. The jury found the special circumstance allegations—that the murder was carried out for financial gain and by means of lying in wait—to be true. McDermott was sentenced to death.

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Valerie Martin

Valerie Martin

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In February of 2003, William Whiteside, 61, was living in his mobile home with Valerie Martin, 36. Whiteside and Martin met each other at their place of employment, the Antelope Valley Hospital. Also living in the mobile home were Martin's son, 17-year-old Ronald Ray Kupsch III, Kupsch’s pregnant girlfriend, Jessica Buchanan, and Kupsch’s friend, 28-year-old ex-con Christopher Lee Kennedy. 

On February 27, 2003, Martin, Kupsch, Buchanan, Kennedy, and their friend Bradley Zoda were at Whiteside's trailer when Martin mentioned that she owed a drug dealer $300. After discussing ways to get the money, the group decided they would steal it from Whiteside by mugging him in the parking lot when he left work that night.

Around 9 p.m., Martin drove Kennedy, Zoda, and Kupsch to the hospital but called off the plan as too risky due to possible witnesses. Martin came up with another idea. After dropping the others off at a friend's house, she called Whiteside and asked him to pick them up on his way home from work.

When Whiteside arrived, Kupsch, Kennedy, and Zoda—who were all high on methamphetamine—got into his car and immediately attacked him, beating him until he was unconscious. They shoved Whiteside into the trunk of the car and drove around, looking for a good place to stop. During the drive, Whiteside tried to escape from the trunk twice but was beaten back both times.

Once parked, Kupsch called Martin, told her where they were, and asked her to bring gasoline. When she arrived with the gasoline, Kennedy took it and poured it all over the car. Kupsch lit it on fire.

Authorities found the burned up car the following day, but Whiteside's remains were not discovered until March 10 after Whiteside's ex-wife reported him missing. A forensic team searched the burned-out vehicle and discovered Whiteside's remains, much of which had been burned to ashes.

An autopsy determined that Whiteside had died from smoke inhalation and bodily burns. The head injuries he'd sustained would not have been fatal. He was burned alive.

Valerie Martin was convicted and sentenced to death for the robbery, kidnapping, and murder. Kennedy and Kupsch received life sentences, without the possibility of parole. Brad Zoda, who was 14 years old at the time, testified for the state against Martin, Kennedy, and Kupsch.

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Michelle Lyn Michaud

Michelle Michaud

Mug Shot / Public Domain

Michelle Michaud and her (then) boyfriend James Daveggio were convicted and given death sentences for kidnapping, sexually torturing, and murdering 22-year-old Vanessa Lei Samson. The couple turned the back of their Dodge Caravan into a torture chamber, outfitting it with hooks and rope designed to restrain their victims.

On December 2, 1997, Vanessa Samson was walking down a Pleasanton, California street when Michaud drove up beside her and Daveggio pulled her into the van. Michaud continued to drive around for hours as Samson, forced to wear a ball gag, was sexually tortured by Daveggio. The couple eventually tied a nylon rope around Samson's neck and each pulled one end, together strangling Samson to death.

According to prosecutors, for three months Michaud and Daveggio drove around "hunting"—a term Michaud used—for young women to kidnap. They sexually assaulted six female victims, including Michaud's young daughter, one of Michaud's friends, and Daveggio's 16-year-old daughter.

During sentencing, Judge Larry Goodman described the torture and murder of Vanessa Samson as being, “vile, cruel, senseless, depraved, brutal, evil, and vicious.”

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Tanya Jamie Nelson

Tanya Nelson

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Tanya Nelson was 45 years old and the mother of four children when she was sentenced to death in Orange County after being convicted of murdering fortune teller Ha Smith, 52, and her 23-year-old daughter, Anita Vo.

According to court testimony, Nelson's accomplice, Phillipe Zamora, testified that Nelson wanted Smith to die because she felt cheated when Smith predicted that her business would be successful if she moved it to North Carolina.

Nelson, who had been a long-time client of Smith's, followed the fortune teller's advice and moved—but instead of finding success, she wound up losing her home. Nelson was also angry when Smith refused to tell her that she would be reunited with her ex-lover. Nelson convinced Zamora to travel with her from North Carolina to Westminster, California with the purpose of killing Smith in exchange for introducing him to several possible gay sex partners.

On April 21, 2005, Zamora testified that the two of them met with Ha "Jade" Smith and her daughter Anita Vo. Nelson stabbed Vo to death and Zamora stabbed Smith to death. The pair then searched the house for expensive jewelry Smith was known for wearing, credit cards, and other items of value. When they were done, Zamora went to Walmart and purchased white paint which they used to cover their victims' heads and hands.

Nelson was arrested five weeks later after it was discovered that she had an appointment with Smith on the day of the murders and that she had used Smith's and Vo's credit cards. Nelson, who has always maintained her innocence, received a death sentence. Zamora received a sentence of 25 years to life.

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Sandi Nieves

Sandi Nieves

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On June 30, 1998, Sandi Nieves told her five children that they were going to have a slumber party. Everyone was going to sleep in the kitchen of their Santa Clarita home. Tucked into sleeping bags, the children fell asleep but woke up choking on smoke. 

Jaqlene and Kristl Folden, 5 and 7, and Rashel and Nikolet Folden-Nieves, 11 and 12, died of smoke inhalation. David Nieves, who was 14 at the time, was able to escape the house and survived. He later testified that Nieves refused to let the children leave the burning house, telling them to stay in the kitchen. According to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, Nieves first asphyxiated the children with gas from the oven, then used gasoline to ignite a fire.

Prosecutors believe that Nieves's actions were motivated by revenge against the men in her life. In the weeks leading up to the murders, Nieves's boyfriend had ended their relationship and she and her ex-husband were fighting over child support. Nieves was found guilty of four counts of first-degree murder, attempted murder, and arson. She was sentenced to death.

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Angelina Rodriguez

Angelina Rodriguez

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Angelina and Frank Rodriguez met in February 2000 and were married in April of the same year. By September 9, 2000, 41-year-old Frank Rodriguez was dead and Angelina was awaiting $250,000 from his life insurance—but there was a catch. Until a coroner determined Frank's cause of death, the insurance money would not be released.

To help speed up the process, Angelina called an investigator to report that she'd received an anonymous phone call with a tip that her husband had died as a result of antifreeze poisoning. While it was later determined that Angelina never received such a call, she was right: Frank did die as the result of antifreeze poisoning. According to a toxicology report, Frank had ingested massive quantities of green antifreeze four to six hours prior to his death.

Angelina was arrested and charged with murder within weeks of Frank's death. Prosecutors believe that she poured green antifreeze into Frank's green Gatorade and that it was her third attempt to do away with him since she'd taken out the $250,000 life insurance policy on him.

They alleged that first, ​she tried to kill Frank by feeding him highly poisonous oleander plants. Next, she allegedly left the gas cap off the dryer and went away to visit a friend—but Frank discovered the leak. During her trial, ​she was found guilty of witness tampering after she threatened a friend who was scheduled to testify that Angelina had discussed murdering her husband as a solution to her marital and financial problems.

Angelina's history of obtaining money from various lawsuit didn't help her in court. She'd sued a fast-food restaurant for sexual harassment, then Target for negligence after she slipped and fell in a store. In six years, she'd racked up $286,000 in settlements but her biggest payoff was from the Gerber Company. When her daughter choked and died on a pacifier, Angelina collected on a $50,000 life insurance policy she'd taken out on the child.

After her husband's death, an investigation into the death of her 13-month-old baby was reopened. It's now believed that Angelina murdered her child by removing the protective guard from the pacifier and shoving it down her daughter's throat so that she could sue the manufacturer and also claim the life insurance.

Angelina Rodriguez was found guilty of the murder of Frank Rodriguez by means of poisoning with oleander and antifreeze. She was sentenced to death on January 12, 2004, and resentenced on November 1, 2010. On February 20, 2014, the California Supreme Court upheld her death sentence again.

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Brooke Marie Rottiers

Brooke Rottiers

Mug Shot / Public Domain

Brooke Marie Rottiers, 30, of Corona, lured 22-year Marvin Gabriel and 28-year-old Milton Chavez to their deaths. According to court testimony, Gabriel and Chaves met Rottiers (nickname "Crazy") and co-defendant Francine Epps when they went to have a few drinks after work. Rottiers offered to have sex with the two men in exchange for money. She told them to follow her and Epps to her motel room at the National Inn in Corona. Drug dealer Omar Tyree Hutchinson was also living there.

When the two men entered the motel room, Epps held them at gunpoint while Rottier and Hutchinson stripped, robbed, and beat them. The men were then hog-tied with electrical cords. Bras, panties and other items were stuffed into their mouths. Their noses and mouths were covered with tape, and plastic bags were placed over their heads.

Rottiers, Epps, and Hutchinson entertained themselves by doing drugs as their victims suffocated. Once dead, the men's bodies were dumped in the trunk of a car which was left parked on a dirt road.

Brooke Rottiers, the mother of four children, two of whom were allegedly in the motel room during the murders, is believed to have masterminded the crime. She often bragged that she would lure men with the promise of sex for cash, only to rob them instead. She was convicted on June 23, 2010, of two counts of first-degree murder committed during the course of a robbery. She was sentenced to death.

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Mary Ellen Samuels, a.k.a. 'The Green Widow'

Mary Ellen Samuels

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Mary Ellen Samuels was found guilty of arranging the murders of her husband and of her husband's killer. According to testimony, Samuels hired James Bernstein, 27, to murder her estranged husband, 40-year-old Robert Samuels— who was in the process of divorcing his wife after three years of unsuccessfully trying to reconcile the marriage—for insurance money and for full ownership of a Subway sandwich shop the couple co-owned.

Bernstein was a known drug dealer and one of two fiancés of Samuels' daughter, Nicole. He was allegedly instrumental in hiring the hitman to kill Robert Samuels. Samuels was found at his home in Northridge, California, bludgeoned and shot to death on December 8, 1988.

A month after the murder, Bernstein took out a $25,000 life insurance policy and named Nicole as the only beneficiary. Concerned that Bernstein was going to talk to police, Mary Ellen Samuels arranged to murder Bernstein, who was strangled to death in June 1989 by Paul Edwin Gaul and Darrell Ray Edwards.

Samuels was dubbed the "green widow" by police and prosecutors when it was discovered that within the year of her husband's death and prior to her arrest, she'd spent more than $500,000 that she'd received from his insurance policies and from the sale of the Subway restaurant.

During court proceedings, prosecutors showed jurors a photograph of Samuels taken within months after her husband's death. She was laying on a hotel bed, covered in $20,000 worth of $100 dollar bills.

A jury convicted Mary Ellen Samuels of the first-degree murders of Robert Samuels and James Bernstein, soliciting the murders of Robert Samuels and James Bernstein, and conspiring to murder Robert Samuels and James Bernstein.  Gaul and Edwards testified against Samuels in exchange for sentences of 15 years to life. The jury sentenced Samuels to death for each count of murder.

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Cathy Lynn Sarinana

Cathy Lynn Sarinana

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In 2007, Cathy Lynn Sarinana was 29 years old when she and her husband, Raul Sarinana, were found guilty of torturing their 11-year-old nephew, Ricky Morales, to death.

Brothers Conrad and Ricky Morales were sent to live with Raul and Cathy Sarinana in Randle, Washington, after their mother, Raul Sarinana's sister, was sent to jail on felony charges in Los Angeles County. Authorities believe the couple began to abuse the boys shortly after they arrived.

According to police, on Christmas 2005, Raul Sarinana confessed to forcing Ricky to clean the bathroom after he was feeling ill and did not want to eat the Christmas meal that Cathy Sarinana had prepared. Raul repeatedly kicked the boy in anger because he felt that Ricky was not being diligent in his assigned chore. After kicking the boy, Raul locked him in a closet and stomped on him when he attempted to get out. Ricky was found in the closet several hours later, dead. An autopsy revealed that the boy died from massive internal injuries.

According to the pretrial brief submitted by Riverside County deputy medical examiner Dr. Mark Fajardo, "Scars on Ricky's body (were) consistent with being whipped with an electrical cord or similar instrument. Ricky's scrotum was damaged with a penetrating laceration, and his scrotal sac was severely damaged . . . There were multiple scars to Ricky's scalp, primarily centered on the back of his head . . . Finally, there were multiple circular injuries consistent with cigarette burns located throughout Ricky's body that were determined to be at least several weeks, if not several months, old." 

Around September 2005, the boy's mother, Rosa Morales, told the Sarinanas that she was ready for the boys to come home, but Raul told her that he could not afford the airfare. When Morales pushed the subject again in October, Raul told her that 13-year-old Conrad had run away with an older gay lover but both of the Sarinanas told social workers another story—that Conrad was living with relatives in another state.

During the investigation into Ricky's death, detectives discovered Conrad Morales body encased inside a trash can filled with concrete placed outside the couple's Corona home. Raul later admitted that Conrad had died around August 22, 2005, after he'd disciplined the boy. The couple brought his body with them when they moved from Washington to California.

Separate juries heard the cases against Raul and Cathy Sarinana. Cathy Lynn's lawyer, Patrick Rosetti, argued that Cathy was an abused wife and was mentally tormented and went along with her husband out of fear for her two children. Witnesses stated that they saw Raul hit and choke Cathy, but other witnesses also saw both Cathy and Raul abuse Ricky and testified that Cathy treated Ricky like an enslaved child, ordering him to clean up after her and her two children. Police also reported that neighbors noticed that Ricky began to get thin while the rest of the family continued to look well-nourished.

Both Raul and Cathy Sarinana were convicted and sentenced to death for the murders of the two boys.

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Janeen Marie Snyder

Janeen Snyder

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Janeen Snyder was 21 when on April 17, 2001, she and her lover, 45-year-old Michael Thornton, kidnapped, tortured, sexually abused, and murdered 16-year-old Michelle Curran. Janeen Snyder and Michael Thornton first met in 1996 when Snyder, who was friends with Thornton's daughter, moved into their home. The two unlikely lovers quickly formed a bond—one that included a lot of drugs and sadistic sex with unwilling young girls.

On April 4, 2001, in Las Vegas, Nevada, 16-year-old Michelle Curran was kidnapped by Snyder and Thornton while she was on her way to school. Over the next three weeks,​ Curran was held captive, sexually abused, and raped by the couple. On April 17, 2001, the couple trespassed onto a horse ranch in Rubidoux, California where they found a storage shed that was used to store horse equipment. They tied Curran's hands and feet, strapped her to harnesses, violated her again, and then Snyder shot her in the forehead.

The owner of the property discovered Thornton and Snyder in the shed and the police apprehended them as they were fleeing the scene. They were charged with breaking and entering but held on $1 million-dollar bond due to an excess of blood in the shed. Michelle Curran's body was found stuffed into a horse trailer by the property owner five days later. Thornton and Snyder were charged with kidnapping, sexual ​assault, and murder.

During their trial, two witnesses for the prosecution testified about being kidnapped and raped by Snyder and Thornton. According to their testimony, the young girls were lured by Snyder to Thornton on separate occasions, held against their will, given continuous dosages of methamphetamine, sexually abused, and that their lives were threatened. 

A detective for the San Bernardino County sheriff's department also testified that in March 2000, she interviewed a 14-year-old girl who said she'd been held captive for over a month by Thornton and Snyder and that she was afraid that they would kill her if she tried to escape. The young girl thought that she had been sexually assaulted when they gave her heavy drugs that included methamphetamine and hallucinogenic mushrooms.

During the trial's penalty phase, a psychiatric expert who interviewed Snyder testified that she had confessed to the murder of 14-year-old Jesse Kay Peters, the only daughter of Cheryl Peters, a hair stylist who worked for Thornton in his hair salon. According to the witness, Snyder told her that on March 29, 1996, in Glendale, California, she lured Jesse Peters out of her house and into Thornton's car. They took her to Thornton's house and Snyder watched as Thornton handcuffed Peters to a bed and raped her. He then drowned Peters in a bathtub before dismembering her remains and dumping them off Dana Point. Thornton's ex-wife testified that she overheard Thornton talking about dismembering a young girl and throwing her remains into the ocean.

Thornton and Snyder were not charged in connection with Peters' case but both Snyder and Thornton were found guilty and sentenced to death in connection with the death of crimes committed against Michelle Curran.

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Catherine Thompson

Catherine Thompson

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Catherine Thompson was found guilty of murdering of her husband of 10 years, Melvin Johnson. The motive? A $500,000 life insurance policy.

According to police records, on June 14, 1990, police received a 911 call from Catherine Thompson stating in which she stated that while she was picking her husband up from his auto transmission shop, she heard what sounded like backfire coming from a car. She then saw someone running from the shop.

When the police arrived, they found Melvin Thompson inside his shop, dead from multiple gunshot wounds. Catherine Thompson told police that her husband kept a lot of cash and his Rolex watch in the shop—both of which appeared to have been stolen.

At first, the police thought the crime was related to the "Rolex Robber," a thief who was stealing expensive Rolex watches around the Beverly Hills area. But a shop owner next door to Melvin's shop saw a suspicious-looking man getting into a vehicle around the same time as the shooting and he was able to provide investigators with the license plate number.

Police traced it to a rental agency and retrieved the name and address of the person who had rented it. That led them to Phillip Conrad Sanders, who turned out to not only know Catherine—the two had been involved in an alleged shady real estate deal.

Police arrested Sanders on suspicion of murder, They also arrested Sanders' wife, Carolyn, and her son, Robert Lewis Jones, on suspicion of being accessories to murder. Phillip Sanders was found guilty of murder and received a life sentence. His wife was also found guilty. She was sentenced to six years and 14 months. Her son, who police believe drove the getaway car, was sentenced to 11 years.

Sanders fingered Catherine Thompson as the mastermind of her husband's murder. Although there was no direct evidence presented by prosecutors that proved that she was involved, the jury found her guilty and she was sentenced to death.

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Manling Tsang Williams

Manling Tsang Williams

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Manling Tsang Williams was 32 when she was convicted in 2010 of murdering her 27-year-old husband, Neal, and sons, Ian, 3, and Devon, 7, in August 2007. It wasn't until January 19, 2012, that she was sentenced to death.

From the outside, Manling appeared to be a loving mother and wife who also worked a waitress job. Neal was a devoted father and also worked hard at his insurance job, often spending time working the job at home on his computer.

In 2007, Manling reunited with an old high school flame through MySpace and the two began having an affair. Not long after, Manling began telling friends about a recurring nightmare she was having in which Neal suffocated the children and then took his own life.

On the night of August 7, 2007, Manling put on rubber gloves and suffocated both of her boys as they slept. Afterward, she got on her computer and checked out MySpace—her boyfriend's profile page in particular—then headed out to meet friends for drinks.

When she got home, Neal was asleep. Manling took out a samurai sword and began slashing and stabbing Neal with it. She cut him 97 times. Neal fought back. Defensive wounds were found on hands and arms. Toward the end, he begged Manling to get him help, but she chose to let him die.

After his death, Manling posted a suicide note, allegedly from Neal, in which he blamed himself for killing the children and committing suicide. She cleaned off the bloody sword, gathered up her bloody clothing and disposed of it.

Once she'd cleaned up the crime scene, Manling ran outside and began screaming. A crowd of neighbors quickly formed. At first, Manling said she couldn't sleep and had been out for a drive. When she returned home, she found her husband unconscious.

But when police arrived, she changed her story. She said she'd been at the grocery store. At the police station, she cried for hours. Through her tears, she kept asking the investigators if Neal and the kids were okay. She stuck to her story about finding the bodies—until one of the detectives told her about a bloody cigarette box that they discovered in her car. When Manling realized her alibi was a washout, she broke down and confessed to the murders.

In 2010, Manling Tsang Williams' court case began. She was charged not only with the three counts of first-degree murder but also of the special circumstances of multiple murders and lying in wait—which made hers a death penalty case.

Finding her guilty was not challenging for the jury. It took them only eight hours to convict on all counts, including the special circumstances. However, when it came to sentencing Manling Williams, the jury could not agree on life or death.

When Manling faced a second penalty phase jury, there was no deadlock. The jury recommended the death penalty. Judge Robert Martinez agreed with the verdict, and on January 12, 2012, he sentenced Williams to death—but not without voicing his opinion on her crimes.

"The evidence is compelling that the defendant, for selfish reasons, murdered her own two children," Martinez said. He referred to the motivation behind the murders as, "narcissistic, selfish and adolescent," and said that had she wished to abandon her children, there were several family members who would have cared for them. In his final words to Williams, Martinez admonished, "It is not for me to forgive because the ones in the position to forgive are not with us. I hope your families find peace."

The Legacy of California's Death Penalty

Since 1893, only four women sentenced to death have been executed in the state of California. The last was Elizabeth Ann “Ma” Duncan, 58, who was executed August 8, 1962. Duncan was convicted of hiring two contract killers to murder her pregnant daughter-in-law.

In March 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced a moratorium on capital punishment. The result was a temporary reprieve for the 737 inmates—male and female—on California's death row, which is the largest in the Western Hemisphere.

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Your Citation
Montaldo, Charles. "Women on California's Death Row." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/women-on-death-row-in-california-973502. Montaldo, Charles. (2021, February 16). Women on California's Death Row. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/women-on-death-row-in-california-973502 Montaldo, Charles. "Women on California's Death Row." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/women-on-death-row-in-california-973502 (accessed June 15, 2021).