Crime - Sacto 911

Killer resentenced after California Supreme Court let him off death row

The capital sentence of a Redding man who spent 13 years on death row has been converted to life without the possibility of parole for the gruesome torture and prolonged beating to death of 20-year-old Lora Sinner while they were camping in 1998 in the Trinity Alps.

Paul Gordon Smith Jr. was resentenced in absentia Wednesday in Shasta Superior Court for the murder of Sinner, of Hoquiam, Wash. Shasta County District Attorney Stephen Carlton announced earlier in July that his office would not retry the penalty phase of Smith’s trial. He will be moved off San Quentin State Prison’s death row.

The California Supreme Court in April overturned the sentence, ruling that Smith was improperly barred from calling an expert witness during the penalty phase. The high court upheld Smith’s 2002 conviction of first-degree murder.

“Paul Smith certainly deserves to be executed,” Carlton was quoted as saying in the Redding Record Searchlight, announcing his decision not to return to court. But, he said, it would likely cost the county between $1 million and $2 million to retry the penalty phase and, he added, it’s highly unlikely Smith would ever be executed even if he were resentenced to death.

Stew Jankowitz, a former senior deputy district attorney who was asked to review the case for Carlton’s office after the Supreme Court’s decision, agreed with Carlton’s decision, calling the death penalty in California “an illusion,” the Record Searchlight reported.

Since 1978, more than 850 people have been sentenced to death in California, but only 13 have been executed – the last being in 2006, when executions were halted by a federal judge, who found the intravenous method used by the state may pose too much risk for pain to be constitutionally sound.

The Record Searchlight quoted Jankowitz as saying that many legal and law enforcement experts believe the death penalty will probably be abolished in California within the next five years.

He noted that Sinner’s family wants Smith put to death, and Smith wants to be retried because, Jankowitz said, he would then be sent back to death row, with a private cell, private shower, private meals and other perks.

“I hate to say it, but those on death row have the most beneficial incarceration,” he added, according to the Record Searchlight.

Jason Sinner, a brother of the victim, said in an email: “We as a family are outraged that justice has not prevailed in this case. The death penalty is a law that exists in California at this time. It is a right to every victim to have it considered fairly in relationship to the evidence in the case. This crime was brutal in nature and is deserving of this penalty.”

Denny Walsh: 916-321-1189