Sunday, 19 May 2024

New judge assigned to hearings involving 1980 murder

BUTTE COUNTY – In a Monday hearing a convicted murderer was granted his request for a new judge as part of proceedings to determine his competency during his trial more than a quarter century ago.

Gerald Stanley, 64, made his appearance in Butte County Superior Court on Monday via teleconference from San Quentin State Prison, where he is on death row.

Appearing with his public defender, Chico attorney Dennis Hoptowit, Stanley asked to have Judge Steven J. Howell disqualified from the case.

In a June 4 letter to the Butte County Superior Court, Stanley said he wanted Howell removed for bias.

Howell, who was assigned to preside, in turn appointed Judge Gerald Hermanson to take the case, according to Lake County District Attorney Jon Hopkins, who was in Butte County for the hearing.

Stanley was convicted of the August 1980 murder of his wife, Cynthia Rogers, at her father's resort in Nice. He was sentenced to death and sent to death row in February 1984.

The former hunting guide also had done prison time for murdering his first wife, Kathleen Rhiley, in 1975. His wife, Diana Lynn Ramel, went missing on Feb. 14, 1980, but he has maintained his innocence in her death. Then, before Cynthia Rogers was shot, a 19-year-old Redding woman, Sheryl Ranee Wright, went missing, and Stanley was being investigated for her murder at one point as well.

His murder conviction has been the subject of numerous appeals and legal proceedings over the years.

However, it took a new turn in March of 2008 when federal court Judge Frank C. Damrell ruled that a new hearing was needed to determine whether or not Stanley had been mentally competent during his trial's death penalty phase.

Damrell's finding was based on a female juror who had been a domestic violence victim but hadn't disclosed it in court. Stanley told Lake County News in a phone interview earlier this year that he and his attorneys had been aware of the woman's experience but had wanted to keep her on the jury anyway.

Nevertheless, that kicked off a new series of legal proceedings in Butte County, where the trial – which took place during the latter half of 1983 and into early 1984 – was moved from Lake County due to pre-trial publicity.

Hopkins has said previously that, despite the length of time that has passed, a retroactive competency hearing could be held, and he plans to argue that Stanley was sane at the time of trial.

Stanley, in a June 29 phone interview with Lake County News, had worried that the Monday hearing might not take place because he said San Quentin officials were considering postponing it due to his health.

“I'm ready, I want to do this. It's important,” he said.

Stanley, who has heart problems, said he began a hunger strike after he claimed he was assaulted by prison guards – who also allegedly took photos from his cell – on June 25.

Hopkins said Stanley had written the court threatening not to show up at the hearing because of the issues.

A prison spokesman couldn't be reached for comment before the end of the day Monday to address the allegations.

Stanley has alleged similar abuse issues before, and in a June 1 letter to the court accused San Quentin officials of interfering with his legal mail and calls, while he said guards were making him wait “in stand up cages for hours.”

He said they're trying to force him to provide the location of Ramel's body, which he has stated is to be found buried in a creek bed in Manton, in northern Tehama County.

Earlier this year Stanley gave Tehama County officials information about where he and a friend buried Ramel, who he said overdosed. He's offered the information over the years in exchange for an execution date.

At a Sept. 15 hearing, which Hopkins said was set Monday, Stanley is expected to argue for representing himself in court and is expected once again to seek to have Hoptowit removed. He told Lake County News on June 29 that he wanted Hoptowit off the case.

That issue was supposed to be discussed at the Monday hearing, but Hopkins said Hoptowit requested more time.

Stanley also has once again indicated that he wants Hayward attorney Jack Leavitt to represent him in court. He had wanted to bring Leavitt on previously, but was turned down by Howell last September.

In March of 2008, Stanley had a chance to ask for Leavitt, but instead requested Mark Olive, a Florida attorney who specializes in death row cases and has worked on Stanley's case in the past. Hoptowit was appointed at that time by Judge Sandra McLean.

Last month Stanley wrote to the court once again saying he wanted Leavitt on the case, and accusing Hoptowit and the federal defenders working his case of continuing “to deceive me and the courts.” He said he wants to represent himself with Leavitt's help.

Hoptowit could not be reached for comment on Monday.

Explaining his plans, Stanley said, “We're going to agree with Jon Hopkins that I was competent in 1983 and that I'm competent now.”

Hopkins said that he hopes on Sept. 15 to be able to set a date for a hearing on the feasibility of a retroactive competency hearing.

He admitted that, with the delays in the case, it's entirely possible that hearing won't happen this year.

“We just need to get going here,” he said.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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