Crime - Sacto 911

Man on San Quentin death row for Fair Oaks triple murder dies

James David Majors.
James David Majors. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

A man sentenced to death at San Quentin State Prison for killing three people in a Fair Oaks home almost three decades ago died Thursday morning. The cause of his death is unknown, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

The inmate, identified as James David Majors, 69, was pronounced dead about 7:30 a.m. in a nearby hospital, said a CDCR news release. He has been on death row in San Quentin since February 1991.

He was found guilty of driving from Arizona to buy methamphetamine with his accomplice, Robert Reese, in January 1989 and shooting three adults – Thomas Probst, Jeanine Copeland and Patrick Mungavin – in a Fair Oaks home that was being used as a drug distribution depot.

Both were accused of killing the adults as well as taking methamphetamine, money and jewelry from a safe in the residence. The three victims were found by Copeland’s son, who was sleeping in the home at the time of the shooting, according to original reports of the killings. The boy called 911 the following morning after finding his mother in a pool of blood.

A Sacramento Bee article said Probst’s family found a note tying Reese to the $10,000 drug deal. Detectives later determined Majors accompanied Reese from Arizona to Sacramento the night of the killings as an accomplice. Detectives phoned both men and later arrested Majors on murder charges in connection to the Fair Oaks deaths after learning that Reese had been fatally shot a month after the Fair Oaks killings.

Majors was sentenced to death by a jury, which deliberated on the sentence for less than 14 hours over the course of four days. At the time, a Sacramento Bee article said he also faced another trial in Arizona, where he was suspected of killing several other people, including his partner Reese.

The CDCR said an autopsy was being performed to determine the cause of Majors’ death.

He is one of several death row inmates to die while in custody since California reinstated capital punishment in 1978, the CDCR said. Of those inmates, 71 have died from natural causes, 25 committed suicide and 13 have been executed. There are 749 offenders on death row in California.

Nashelly Chavez: 916-321-1188, @nashellytweets