Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón asked a Superior Court Judge to overturn the death sentence of a man who murdered two Japanese students in 1994.
Gascón wants to change the death sentence of Raymond Oscar Butler, 47, to life in prison without parole, reported NBC News.
Butler, then 18-years-old, fatally shot Marymount College film students Takuma Ito and Go Matsuura through the backs of their heads during a failed carjacking at the parking lot of a Ralph’s supermarket in San Pedro, California, on March 25, 1994.
The incident made international headlines and sparked outrage, prompting the U.S. ambassador to issue a televised apology to Japan.
Butler was later convicted in 1996 and sentenced to death. He also received another death sentence for his involvement in a fatal stabbing of a fellow inmate prior to his sentencing in 1995.
In the resentencing recommendation filed on July 11, Gascón’s office cited Butler’s age and his mental illness at the time of his crime.
“The defendant today is not the same, cognitively immature teen-ager who murdered two innocent victims in this case,” the petition reportedly reads. “The interests are best served by resentencing the defendant.”
If all parties agree to the resentencing, a hearing will not be necessary, the petition added.
However, Gascón’s petition did not seek to lift the capital sentence for Butler’s 1995 murder of the inmate, meaning the defendant would still be on death row even if the resentencing is successful.
“Mr. Butler has two separate cases. One case involved the murder of the two college students. This case came before our office due to the California Supreme Court deciding there was a prima facie issue of juror misconduct,” a spokesperson for the DA’s office said. “After reviewing the juror misconduct claim and weighing the equities, our office found it to be in the interest of justice to re-sentence Butler to life without the possibility of parole in this case. The DA’s office is not seeking Butler’s release from prison. In fact, Mr. Butler will remain sentenced to death in case TA041759. The court hearing will be public.”
“District Attorney Gascón remains committed to ending the death penalty in Los Angeles because it is racist in its application, morally untenable, irreversible, expensive and it has never been shown to deter crime,” the spokesperson added.
The petition has reignited criticisms against Gascón. Since he took office in late 2020, Gascón has been blamed for the county’s increasing crime rates due to his purportedly lax policies. He opposed the death penalty, banned trying juveniles as adults, eliminated most sentencing enhancements, ended cash bail and re-evaluated the sentences of those who have served 15 years in prison.
Gascón currently faces a second recall effort as critics blame his criminal justice reform policies for the crime surge in Los Angeles County.
“In this case, [Butler] killed multiple people. Not one. Multiple. Just for the hell of it. And right now they are throwing around that he had mental issues and that he had a traumatic childhood, but that doesn’t change the fact that he killed so many people,” James Smith, a relative of the inmate who was murdered by Butler, told California Globe.
“Life without parole, good, he’s never getting out. But a lot of people want more justice than that. And, who speaks for those who died then. It certainly should not be the DA,” Smith added. “We need to hear from those family members back in Japan. They might feel differently about this. We need to know if they talked with them and they approved this. If they did, they should have mentioned it.”