California Supreme Court dumps triple-slaying death sentence

January 24, 2023 GMT

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The California Supreme Court on Monday overturned the murder convictions and death sentence for a man who killed three people and committed a series of other crimes in San Diego in 1985.

The court ordered a new trial for Billy Ray Waldon, ruling unanimously that a lower court judge improperly allowed Bill Ray Waldon to represent himself at trial despite testimony at an earlier competency hearing that he suffered from paranoia and a thought disorder impairing his ability to think clearly.

The judge overturned a previous decision by another judge who had found Waldon wasn’t competent to represent himself.

Authorities said that over a two-week period in December 1985, Waldon shot and killed Dawn Ellerman and set her home on fire, killing her teenage daughter, Erin Ellerman, by smoke inhalation.

He also broke into an apartment and robbed and raped the resident, robbed four women of their purses, shot and killed Gordon Wells as he worked on a car and wounded a neighbor who had heard the shots and went to help Wells, authorities said.

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Waldon was finally arrested six months later.

At trial, Waldon claimed federal agents had framed him for the crimes “to thwart his efforts to promote world peace, spread new languages, and advance Cherokee autonomy,” according to the Supreme Court’s ruling. He also claimed CIA agents had monitored him.

A jury convicted Waldon of three counts of first-degree murder and a host of other crimes, including attempted murder, arson, burglary, rape and robbery.

The Supreme Court reversed Waldon’s conviction and sentence sent the case back to the lower court for further proceedings.