What’s Killing California’s Death Row Inmates?

Corrections officials say 56-year-old Brett Patrick Pensinger died Thursday, May 2, 2019. The specific cause of his death is pending. (California Department of Corrections)

Baby-killer latest to cheat the executioner; he dies of ‘natural causes’ after 27 years on death row

| Depression, suicide, drug use, murder by fellow convicts, ‘unexplained causes’ put the death in death row

By Brian Rokos, May 3, 2019

| The Press-Enterprise – Death row inmate Brett Pensinger, 56, who murdered 5-month-old Michelle Melander in San Bernardino County in 1981, died of natural causes Thursday, May 2.

Pensinger was sentenced to death in 1982.

Since 1978, when California reinstated capital punishment, 80 condemned inmates have died from natural causes, 26 have committed suicide, 15 have been executed and 11 have died from other causes, the CDCR said. There are 735 people on death row. Read more. 


[All male prisoners in California on condemned status are housed at San Quentin in maximum-security custody level units, reports CBS San Francisco. But California has not executed anyone since 2006 and inmates are far more likely to die from suicide or old age. – CBS NEWS]

Miguel Angel Magallon: An inmate on California’s death row died of unknown causes Saturday morning, April 20, 2019, after being found unresponsive in his cell, officials said Monday. Officials began lifesaving procedures on 35-year-old Miguel Angel Magallon just after finding him at 6:17 a.m. He was pronounced dead 32 minutes later. Coroners will conduct an autopsy to determine his cause of death. Source. 

Ronald Lee Bell: Death Row inmate Ronald Lee Bell, whose 1979 conviction for killing a Richmond jewelry store clerk became a test case for the racial makeup of juries in capital cases, has died, officials with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said Monday. Bell, 69, died of unspecified causes March 8, 2019, at the state prison in Corcoran (Kings County), where there is a unit for inmates with long-term medical needs. Source. 

Joseph A. Perez, Jr.: Convicted killer Joseph A. Perez, Jr., was found unresponsive December 4, 2019 in his cell and later died. Perez, 47, was found about 9:11 p.m. Tuesday. Emergency lifesaving measures were immediately started but Perez was pronounced dead at 9:21 p.m. An autopsy will be conducted to determine his cause of death. Officials said Perez was sentenced to death in Contra Costa County on Jan. 25, 2002, for the murder of Janet Daher, 46, who was strangled and stabbed in her Lafayette home during a home-invasion robbery. Source. 

Herminio “Spankio” Serna: A gang member sentenced to death in 1997 for multiple murders in San Jose died on Monday, December 3, 2018, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Herminio “Spankio” Serna, 53, was found unresponsive in his one-person cell. Prison personnel gave Serna CPR and called an ambulance, but he was pronounced dead about 8:35 p.m. “The circumstances of his death are being investigated,” a corrections spokesman said. Source.

Andrew Urdiales and Virendra Govin: Two condemned multiple murderers apparently committed suicide within hours of each other on the nation’s largest death row, California officials said Monday. Officials said that while both men’s deaths are being investigated as suicides, there is no indication that their deaths are related. Corrections officials said they found Andrew Urdiales, 54, unresponsive during a security check late Friday. He was sentenced to death on Oct. 5 by an Orange County judge for killing five women in California. Separately, authorities say they found Virendra Govin, 51, unresponsive alone in his cell in a different death row housing unit late Sunday. Both inmates were being held in single cells at the time of their deaths. An autopsy will determine their causes of death. Govin was sentenced in December 2004 for committing four Los Angeles County murders. Source. 

Jonathan Fajardo: Death row inmate Jonathan Fajardo was fatally stabbed by a fellow inmate on Friday, 12 years after he was convicted in the sensational hate crime killing of a 14-year-old black girl that highlighted racial tensions in the Harbor Gateway area of Los Angeles.

The stabbing death of Fajardo, 30, was the first slaying of a death row inmate in California in more than 20 years, officials said. He was stabbed in the chest and neck with an inmate-made weapon in a recreational yard of the cell house that holds the bulk of condemned inmates at the prison.

Luis Rodriguez, 34, who was awaiting execution on two counts of murder, is considered the suspect, Thornton said. Investigators were trying to determine a motive and how he obtained or was able to make the weapon, she said. Source.