It could have been your son, your husband, your brother, your father, your grandfather or a friend.
Anthony King didn’t care.
He wanted to get a pickup truck.
So when the 16 year-old and his buddy Kenneth Bivert saw 35 year-old Steve Patton fishing along the Sacramento River in Yolo County in September of 1987 they decided to do some pickup truck shopping. They chose not to pay for the vehicle. It is what you’d expect a law-abiding citizen to do. Nor did they opt to be a “common criminal” and simply hot wire the truck.
Instead they shot Payton in the face with a shotgun, tossed his body into the river, went joyriding, and then abandoned the pickup truck.
Deciding they wanted to have more fun, they returned to the same spot where they came upon a couple that was fishing — Raymond Rogers, 29, and Dawn Rogers, 32.
Patton and Bivert decided to hand down two more death sentences. They shot both in the back and they decided to put another bullet in the back of the head of the wife. Next they unceremoniously tossed them into the river as if the human beings they killed in cold blood were mere trash. They then stole their second vehicle in two days.
They were arrested a month later in Oregon. A year later they were convicted of robbery and murder. Both were sentenced to 25 years to life.
So where have the victims and the buddies that served as judge, jury, and executioner been for the last 33 years?
Bivert received the death penalty in 2001 for stabbing another inmate to death at Salinas Valley State Prison. Kill a fellow inmate and you get the death penalty in California. Kill three innocent human beings and you might get to walk free in just 33 years.
King this month has been recommended for parole. The only thing standing between him and freedom is the governor.
As for Steve Payton, Raymond Rogers, and Dawn Rogers they never had the luxury of breathing for more than a few seconds after they were judged by Bivert and King as no longer having the right to live simply because they wanted wheels for a few hours of joyriding.
The three victims never got the chance to have three “hots and a cot” along with TV, movies and other diversions au gratis courtesy of California taxpayers. Nor did they get a chance to make their case for their freedom as the parole system has allowed King to do.
Nor are they sitting in a cell at Corcoran State Prison smiling to themselves for convincing the parole board that he no longer poses an “unreasonable risk to society if released.”
Parole commissioner Rosalio Castro is quoted as telling King: “You are now 49 years old. Your change is a complete turnaround from what we saw when you were 16. We felt you showed good insight and remorse and you have realistic parole plans.”
Gee, did the fact he was locked up and watched 24/7 prevent him from killing a fourth, fifth, and sixth time. If you haven’t killed for 33 years, apparently that meets the threshold of being a “complete turnaround.”
Forget the arguments that the best way to assure that a triple murderer won’t ever kill again is to make sure he stays in prison.
Instead let’s talk about the victims who paid the ultimate price and what little King and Bivert have paid.
The two killers didn’t originally get 52 years as a minimum sentence. They got a little over 30 years before they could start practicing their get out of jail speech for a parole board although Bivert messed his up by finding a way to kill again while locked up. That is 10 years for every life they took.
We are told that being able to get parole years before a convicted murderer serves his minimum time is so they can have some hope and therefore be more willing to follow the rules behind bars. Also it is important, we are told, that we try to rehabilitate inmates.
Rehabilitation makes sense to a degree. But we are not talking about manslaughter. These are cold-blooded killings that met the high threshold of first-degree murder that requires the killer to have demonstrated premeditated intent and malice as a bare minimum.
What the State of California is saying is the lives of your son, daughter, husband, wife, father, mother, relative or friend are only worth taking away the freedom of their premeditated murder for 10 years providing they showed remorse after being locked up for that length of time in a prison with heating, air conditioning and basic necessaries plus diversions for entertainment while your loved one is entombed six feet under in a cold grave.
How soon you can get paroled in California for killing three people in cold blood is why you will never get many people to yield on the death penalty.
There may be a lot of problems with our death penalty process in a number of people’s minds but even if the person is never executed they will never get a chance to walk among society again given parole is not on the table.
Some will argue that you can get the same thing for less money in terms of prosecution and incarceration with life in prison without parole.
But in reality once you cross the Rubicon and deep-six the death penalty the next target will be getting rid of life in prison without a chance of parole.
It doesn’t matter that King is judged by a panel “to have turned his life around” and recommend that he be considered for parole.
It doesn’t erase the fact he not only deliberately killed for the expressed purpose of stealing property but he turned around and deliberately murdered two more people because he wanted to take something that did not belong to him.
Anyone who even as a 16 year-old comes to the conclusion it is justified for them to kill three people just to steal their vehicles is certainly capable of gaming the system to get out of prison even if it takes 33 years to do it.
King may say he’s remorseful but I bet that three people who are no longer around to give their two cents —Raymond Rogers, Dawn Rogers, and Steve Patton — would beg to differ.
Why should King even be allowed to enjoy simple freedoms such as being able to go fishing after he denied the same freedoms to three human beings?
If the three had never crossed paths with King and enjoyed the average life expectancy between them they could have lived another 130 plus years.
King took three lives not in self-defense, not in an emotional rage, but because he wanted to joyride. He should be happy that he wasn’t put to death and has been allowed to keep breathing.
That said do we really want a system that says you can deliberately take not one, not two, but three others lives and still get a second chance to be part of civilization?
Now all we can is wait to see whether Governor Gavin Newsom places a higher value on “redemption” of a cold-blooded triple murderer or the need to permanently remove someone from society who killed a man by shooting him in the face to steal his truck and then two days later essentially executed a couple by shooting them in the back and the wife in the head for added measure before stealing their car.