Caryl Chessman and the Death Penalty ##

Poole

With respect to much of the legislation that was either pending in the legislature or had come over to the governor, he often had to take a position on it, and we'd have to go over these things and explain to him what the ramifications were. I'd set up hearings in the death cases, if the other party wanted. Pat was almost never averse to granting a hearing if they wanted one. At these hearings, I would have two or three things I'd want to ask counsel about, and one of those cases was the Caryl Chessman case.

That one was our problem from the day he was sworn in. Pat was sworn in around about the fifth or sixth of January, and Chessman was supposed to be executed about the seventeenth or eighteenth of that month. It was pretty tough, and because we were just getting organized, all I had really to guide me at that time was the records that were still available in that office from Earl Warren's time. I would read the memos that Earl Warren's clemency secretary wrote and the governor's memos—what Earl Warren said in those cases.


Hicke

Wasn't there a clemency secretary under Knight?


Poole

Yes. I was much more interested in Earl Warren. He was now the chief justice of the United States.


Hicke

Yes, I see. All right.


Poole

Yes, there was one [a clemency secretary]. I've forgotten his name now. He was from southern California, and, yes, there was one. He would come up to Sacramento. I'd see him every now and


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then. He told me a lot about how he handled things. We used to get together periodically.


Hicke

Well, the Chessman case had obviously been going on a long time.


Poole

The Chessman case had been going on since 1949. This was 1959. Yes, Pat was elected in '58, this is '59, and it went on until he was executed in 1960. Chessman was something like this fellow who's holed up down there in Texas [David Koresh and the Branch Davidians: Waco, Texas, 1993]. He had a grand ego and a lot of nerve. The problem with Chessman was this. The Constitution of California provided in, I think it's in Article VII—I believe it is; I haven't looked at for many years—but the Constitution of California then provided the that governor shall have the power of pardon, commutation of sentence, and so forth. Then it went on to state: except that he may not grant a pardon or commutation of sentence in any case in which the defendant has been twice convicted of felony. And that was as clear as daylight. So, Pat's problem was what could he do in the face of that language?

Now, the Supreme Court of California had no problem with it. The Supreme Court of California said it meant what it meant. Caryl Chessman's offense—he didn't kill anybody.


Hicke

Yes, that was the big problem.


Poole

He had been the person who was referred to as the Red Light Bandit. In the hills outside of Los Angeles, there was a favorite trysting place for people, and this guy had purchased a red light from somewhere, and he'd go up there and occasionally would rob them. On occasion, he assaulted the woman who would be in the car with driver. In one case, he made her get out of the car and get into his car, but he didn't move the car. In another case, he took her about a mile away. In each of those cases, there was some kind of an assault—sexual assault.

What he was convicted of was kidnapping, and the kidnapping statute, which was Section 209 of the California Criminal Code—I don't know whether it's still on the books or not.


Hicke

Well now, how can you remember all that?


Poole

I lived with that for a long time. Section 209 made the offense of kidnapping, if there was what they called any transportation, if they took them any distance— Now, they had one case in which the defendant had—the death penalty: that was in kidnapping, but it provided for the death penalty in any case in which the victim suffered bodily harm. And the California Supreme Court, in a case in which the fellow's hands or the woman's hands, I've forgotten


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which, were bound so tightly that they lost circulation, and in trying to get loose, somehow the rope cut into the vein—


Hicke

Didn't they consider sexual assault bodily harm?


Poole

Yes. I'm telling you any—


Hicke

Oh, I see, even the slightest—


Poole

The slightest. And there was no question about this being bodily harm. That was hardly ever doubted. But the question was, was it a kidnap? Well, sure. He took one of them a mile. The other one he took to his car, which was twenty-two feet away. The problem was that the Supreme Court of California said any distance. That was the transportation of the offense. In addition to that statute, which made so many people very unhappy, there had been some unfairness in that case. Caryl Chessman was an egomaniac, and he felt that he was as smart as anybody who could be his lawyer, so he didn't really want a lawyer. Finally, they had somebody sort of sit near him as an adviser.


Hicke

George T. Davis?


Poole

No, George T. Davis came into the case long after this.


Hicke

It was later. Oh, okay.


Poole

I've forgotten the name of this lawyer down there. It's forgotten in history. He was to be an adviser. That's all Caryl would let him be. Caryl was so egotistical that he infuriated the trial judge, just infuriated him. The trial judge had to do all he could to kind of hold himself in check, and Caryl knew that, and he was going to try to get this guy to blow. His name is Judge Fricke. I think people used to call him "Hanging John." But I must say—I've read that record, I read the transcript—and I've got to say that as tough a man as I knew Judge Fricke to be, it would have taken the patience of Job to have even come close to restraining himself. He ruled against him on almost everything, but when he ruled, you could see there was some basis for it. But the trial was fundamentally unfair in some respects.

In the first place, the judge would not allow daily transcripts of testimony. Now, I had tried a lot of cases, I must tell you. I think by the time I left the District Attorney's Office and went up with Brown, I had probably tried 140-150 jury trials. So, in San Francisco here, when you had a serious case, there would be a transcript ordered by the court at no expense to the defendant. Fricke wouldn't do that in Los Angeles. I think it was his practice not to do it, except in, I don't know, some


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most unusual situations. So Chessman had to rely on whatever notes he had, which is what you'd have to do if you didn't have a transcript.

From my own experience in trying lots of cases, when I was trying an important case, I would arrange with the police—they would go to the transcribers, and the transcriber would usually have a transcript ready for you by about ten o'clock at night. They would go to the transcriber, get my copy of the transcript, and they would bring it to me at my house. I would sit up from that time until perhaps 1:00, 2:00, or later a.m. reading this thing and making my notes so that the next morning when I went into court I had full command of what had gone yesterday; when I would ask the witness on the witness stand, Did you not, yesterday, say so and so and so and so, and he would say, "I don't think I said that"—boom—I'd put it right down his throat: Okay, the transcripts are here. However, the prosecutor in that case was Miller Leavy, the deputy district attorney, one of their top people. He could, and on a number of occasions did, go to the reporter and say, "Look, you know on that passage where this witness was saying so and so, I didn't get that down. Will you read that to me?" And the reporter would say, "Okay," and he'd read it. "Do you want me to type that up for you?" "Yes, type it up for me." So, in effect, he got the transcripts. He got that.

Chessman was convicted. After he was convicted, the shorthand reporter died. California had a statute that provided that in a civil case, if the reporter became unavailable or died, you'd get a new trial.


Hicke

Why is that?


Poole

If you couldn't reconstruct the record, what would happen would be that the shorthand reporter would have probably transcribed some of it.


Hicke

Oh, I see.


Poole

There were a number of alcoholics among their ranks, and they didn't always get around to getting it done that way. But there was no comparable criminal statute in criminal cases. But it wasn't known at first that the prosecutor was getting some advantage from these things. Then the problem also was that the shorthand reporter—I don't know why he died, and I don't want to malign him—but he had been having some difficulty. There was some talk; some people said that he drank a lot. I never ran that down.


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They finally got another shorthand reporter who agreed that he would tackle this fellow's notes. Other reporters said, "It's impossible to transcribe, just impossible." This fellow said he would do it, and so they got together a record. That became the record on appeal. Then it became known that the reporter who transcribed the notes was an in-law of the prosecutor. [Laughter] So the reason that the Chessman case was a matter of such consequence was, first of all, it was a death case where there had been no death. Second, there was a question of Judge Fricke's partiality. Third, there was the failure to have a transcript. And fourth, there was the fact that although there was no transcript, the prosecutor had had the advantage of having some of it. Then there was Caryl Chessman's stout assertion that he was not the Red Light Bandit, but he knew who it was.


Hicke

Did he say?


Poole

No. No, he played this game quite a bit. Then there was the whole question— A lot of people, many of whom were opposed to the death penalty, because California was executing them left and right. There were sixteen of them when I was in the office. Here you are, you have a death penalty case with this statute. Then I remember that the Episcopal Archbishop of California, Bishop Pike, who was a fine, fine man—I was a friend of his, I admired him very much—and Pike talked to some lawyer, whose name you have already mentioned.


Hicke

George Davis.


Poole

You mentioned his name—who told him that the statute under which Chessman was going to be executed was one which had undergone amendments since the time that the Supreme Court had previously passed on it, and that, therefore, today—by today we're talking about 1960, '61—that today he could not get the death penalty. Archbishop Pike went all over this state repeating this. Now, I knew him well, and, as I say, he and his wife had been in our home, we'd been in his home. So I called him one day, and I said, "Jim, you've been putting this thing out here, and I'm going to come down and talk to you." He said, "Okay, sure." I went down to his office in Grace Cathedral—you know he was the bishop of that. I had taken the statute and I had made a mock-up of the language, and by different coloration, I had shown what happened to each successive amendment to it, and I showed him that the part that provided for the death penalty had never ever once been changed. He said to me, "You know, I'm sorry." He had stirred a lot of people up. He said, "I'm sorry about that." He said, "I'll never want to trust a lawyer again." I said, "Well, you're trusting one right now; you're talking to him." He said, "No, but this convinced me."


52

In any event, that went on, but for one reason or the other, each time Chessman was sentenced to death and the time for execution became imminent, some judge somewhere stepped in and did something. People were divided. What they were really divided upon was whether this was a situation where the state ought to be executing this man. That's what they were divided on.


Hicke

And how did Pat [Brown] feel about this?


Poole

Pat would have commuted him if he could. He felt that the first time—As I say, when we had been there for I think eleven days or something like that, there was an execution set and Pat was agonizing. I was frantically getting the Chairman of the Adult Authority and the people in the Attorney General's Office to get those damn transcripts up here, and they didn't come in time. All we could do then—we had a lot of lore on it; there was a lot of material on it, but we didn't have the actual transcripts. His execution was supposed to come off, and I think it was Justice [William O.] Douglas gave him a stay, so we could breathe easily, more easily. And he came up several other times.

Then Chessman would send messages from the prison. He always found some news person too happy to take these messages. In those messages, Chessman said he wasn't asking the governor for clemency. He said, "I'm not guilty. I don't want clemency. I'm not guilty at all," and this other stuff. Hale Champion and I wrote a piece for Pat to publish, indicating that Chessman had not asked me for clemency. And Pat said something like "This is still a matter for the courts, and I shall not interfere." It was getting closer now to the time for his execution. He had gotten to this point several times in the preceding eight or nine years, and he got there again in our case.

Then Pat called me and said, "I think I ought to have a hearing on this case, don't you?" I said, "Absolutely, but it's not going to come out the way you think, because he's not going to be here, and I think it's just going to be another situation where one side will say this and the other one will say that, but let's do it. Maybe something will come of it that we don't know about. Let's find out." So they had the hearing. Miller Leavy, the prosecutor, came up. All his lawyers came up, and we heard it. In anticipation of that, I had begun reading the record. I read the record, and I gave Pat a report—I've forgotten how thick it was now, but it took me a long time to do it—and I pointed out what I thought were matters that he ought to have in mind. I said something in there to the effect that despite the outcry that we have been witnessing, no one has come near repealing the death penalty. I said to Pat, I said in there, "And you asked the legislature to do so and it refused. In the long run, only you


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and your conscience can say what you're going to do. Under the Constitution of this state, you are without authority to do it." He read it and he was shaking his head.

At that time, he told Hale Champion and me that he was not going to interfere. He said, "You know, it really goes against my grain not to do it." I said, "Well, that's what governors are elected for, to have a big, thick grain so that they can resist the pushing against it." Well, this was the night before the opening of the Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley, and Pat was supposed to go up there and throw out the first ski, or whatever they do [laughter] at the Winter Olympics. It was a very emotional and exciting time.

All during this time, from the time we'd gotten into office up until this—the time I'm talking about was, I think it was January 1960.


Hicke

I think that's right.


Poole

People had been coming up—this is cold weather—people had been coming up and parading around the Capitol building—Sacramento is a very cold place in January—in bare feet.


Hicke

Protesting the execution?


Poole

Protesting the execution. Then there would be some counter demonstration. But the people who were protesting were much stronger and more in evidence than the others were.


Hicke

Why were they barefoot?


Poole

They were wearing monks' garments, but they weren't monks. I don't know what they were, but that's what they were doing. Somehow there was some religious significance to them about it. All kinds of things were coming in. I don't think I can find it now, but we were having so much—we were inundated with letters and telegrams and petitions and such. In my office, we estimated that we had two and a half million communications. They would come from all over the world.

Oh, Pat had—I had forgotten about this.

##

This is the time we're talking about now. I'll get the date for you. It's either the nineteenth of January or February. [February] It was kind of awesome. The governor's mansion was deserted. Pat was there along with the two or three guards who


54
were there. Bernice Brown and Kathleen and the children had gone up to Squaw Valley. Richard Nixon was out to the Olympics, and Pat was by himself. Fred Dutton, who was the chief of staff there, was up at the Olympics. Dick Tuck and Hale Champion and I didn't want to leave the governor alone, so we said we'll have dinner with you tonight. So we scheduled dinner at the Mansion Inn, which is right across the street from the mansion in Sacramento.

On that day Chessman did another one of his surprises. He announced that he was sending a letter to Brown that was going to, in a sense, tell it all, and it would show that he was in possession—he would not say where it was—but he was in possession of proof, the revelation of which would make manifest his innocence.


Hicke

He was a long time coming out with it.


Poole

[Laughter] It was a long time. Well, at this time, he was represented by a woman by the name of Rosalie Asher. She was a nice person and she really believed in Caryl. Rosalie called and said that she had this letter for the governor, but Chessman had decreed that it could be delivered to no one but the governor. Now we long since initiated a whole lot of security things in the office. For one thing, the telephone company had to put in additional lines for us. That's how much they were being used. And we had had to put in an indiction against anybody in the office engaging in any conversation with callers on the phone about this thing. We said, "If someone calls about this case, you refer them either to Champion, to Fred Dutton, or to me." So, I guess some of them observed it, some didn't. All I knew was we had to put in more lines. We had these letters and telegrams. They were stacked up like this [demonstrates] in the office. You can't believe it.


Hicke

Well, he wrote a couple of books I think too, didn't he?


Poole

Yes, he had written these books. We went and we had dinner. And I said to Rosalie, "If you give it to me, of course, you know the governor will see it, but Chessman is not going to determine how we route the communication. You can understand that." So she agreed then to bring it up to me. Everybody in the world was notified that she was going to bring this up here. [Laughter]

So we had dinner with the governor at the Mansion Inn and we got through, and it was getting on to nine o'clock, and Hale and I said we had to get back to the Capitol because we were going to meet Rosalie. Pat went into the mansion. Well, Rosalie finally came, and there must have been 150 newsmen up there. She came


55
into my office, the guard brought her in, and there were just the two of us. She had this letter, and she said, "Before I give it to you, I have to tell you that Caryl made me promise that I would do everything I could to see that this was handed directly to the governor." I said, "You've done that." So she gave me the letter and I opened it and I read it. The best I can say is that—let me say it was less than a Rand McNally map to hidden treasure.


Hicke

Was it no news?


Poole

He talked in generalities, and said some of the things he'd already said before. So while I was talking, Hale Champion, the press secretary, came over several times, because the press were about to blow the walls out, and I said, "I'll let you know when we get through talking." It would be arranged that she could go in and talk to the press.

They had this old-fashioned interoffice communication then. They had a slot and a light for all of the offices. They would light it with green and red lights. The red lights, as I remember, meant that it had some urgency, or as much urgency as you could tell by a light. There was one light on that was the white light. That's the governor. When that light came on, you answered the phone. The light came on—


Hicke

The white light.


Poole

The white light. She couldn't see it, even if she knew what it was. I could see what it was, and so I picked it up, and I said, "Yes?" Pat said, "I've been talking to a number of people. I talked to my son Jerry, I talked to the Catholic bishop of California, I've talked to Bishop Pike, and I've been thinking about it." And he said, "You know, I can't let that man die. I've decided what I'm going to do is, I am going to grant him a sixty-ninety day stay of execution, and I'm going to call the legislature into special session, and I'm going to ask them to repeal that statute." I said, "Well, you know I have a recollection that that has already been done, but that it doesn't look as if it would be any different kind of result." He said, "Well, that's what I think I'm going to do." I said, "I'm a little bit tied up now, but [laughter] think about it until I can get to you and we'll talk about it." He said, "You'd better come in a hurry." I said, "I will do that." I went back to talking with Rosalie and I looked at my watch. I said, "Rosalie, by the way, while I've been sitting up here gabbing on the phone, those people out in the press are getting frantic." Champion had come to see me twice about getting out there. I said, "They want to see you." So when Champion came, I said, "Step out in the hall a minute, Hale, will you? I'll be right back, Rosalie." He came


56
out, and I said, "You know what that damn fool just said to me?" [Laughter]

Did you ever see the tape—the video tape?


Hicke

Video tape? No, I have not seen that.


Poole

It was done by Connie Chung. They did this and they sent me a copy of it. Anyhow, I said, "That damn fool just told me this." I remember Hale's eyes sort of rolling up in his head [laughter]. So I said, "I'm about finished with her. Why don't you take her out now?" He said, "Okay, I'm going to take her out." He was going to hand her over to the assistant press secretary. So I said, "Okay, but we don't have any time."

I went back in and I said, "Rosalie, thank you. I'm going to see Pat pretty soon, and I'll certainly take your letter over there to him. If there is anything else, you leave it with them, tell them where you would be. I don't know that there will be, but if there is, I'll know where to catch you." She said, "I'll be at a hotel here in town. So we walked out of my office and into this room that was like the Tower of Babel. And these guys were coming down like waves on her and she got quickly engulfed. Hale and I sort of backed off and got to the door and closed the door quietly and ran outside and jumped in the car and drove to the mansion.

Pat was in a state. I mean he was really upset. There was nobody there but a couple of guards. He said, "I've just given too much thought to this thing. I can't let this happen." I said, "Pat, you've gone through all of this before. It isn't that you're going to succeed. You know you're not going to succeed, and what this is going to do is it's going to add a whole lot of tarnish to your image, and it's not going to spare this man, not for long. The legislature is not going to repeal capital punishment and you know it." Well, he said, "I would rather lose my office than let this man die. I just can't do it."

And while we were still in there arguing, the telephone rang, and it was a reporter from one of the Los Angeles papers. As I told you, we had the idea the phone communications would be answered either by Fred Dutton, by Hale Champion, or by me. So I said to the guard, "I'll take that phone," and Brown said, "No, you're too tough." He ran across the floor—it's a big room in the mansion—he ran across the floor of that room and he took the phone in his hand, and we sort of trailed in behind him. He talked to this then unknown person. I said to the guard, "Who the hell is it?" He said the name of the paper. I just don't remember which one it was. Pat said to this fellow, "I have


57
decided I'm going to give Caryl Chessman a reprieve; and I'm going to call the legislature into session, and I'm going to ask them repeal capital punishment."

Well, Champion and I looked at each other, and I sat down. And Pat had some more to say. Then I must say as he walked back across the room, it was like he had just won the battle.


Hicke

Jauntily stepping out?


Poole

Yes. We sat down and he said, "What do you think?" I said, "Well, you're the governor of California. You've made up your mind. What we have to do, Hale and I, is go back write this up for you, and we'll do it." Oh, one thing that I forgot. At this time, the president of the United States, Dwight Eisenhower, was about to leave on a visit to Central America. There had been days of agitation down there against Caryl Chessman's execution. My secretaries were working late that night and one of them had handed me a wire, a transcription of a wire. The wire was from an assistant secretary of state, Roy Rubottom. That's the only time I ever heard of the name. It said that the demonstrations, I think it was in Uruguay if I'm not mistaken, had been increasingly violent. We had read about them. They had several days of rioting and increasing violence. Eisenhower hadn't gotten there. He was going to get there the next day or the day after that. They said there was fear for the president's safety. So we got this, and I said to Pat— [Laughter]


Hicke

[Describing Poole's gestures] With your head down, you just stuck your hand out and handed it over.


Poole

So that's what we did. We made this one of the focal points of our theme.


Hicke

Did they ask you to do something about this?


Poole

The State Department didn't say do it. It's a telegram to us. We understood what that was.


Hicke

To commute the sentence, okay.


Poole

So we went back to the mansion and we wrote this up, featuring prominently Eisenhower and his trip, and Pat was pleased with it when he got it. Then I called the prison. I called the prison before I went back to the Capitol and I got the warden. I said, "Warden, this is Cecil Poole." He said, "Yeah, Mr. Poole, they told me you were calling." I said, "How's Caryl?" He said, "Oh, he's all right. He's pretty calm." I said, "Well, get him out of there." He said, "What?" I said, "Get him out, the governor is


58
going to give him a reprieve." He said, "Why?" [Laughter] I said, "For all the reasons you heard before, he's going to do it." He said, "Okay." I said, "We'll get you a copy of it just as fast as we can." So, we went back over to the mansion and we wrote Pat's statement. There was just pandemonium. The phone began to ring, and they just stopped ringing it. The press came.


Hicke

What was Rosalie doing at her press conference meanwhile?


Poole

She said something about it. It was printed. So he had a reprieve. Once you're given a reprieve, you see, they have to start it all over again.


Hicke

A reprieve is the same as a stay of execution?


Poole

It was a stay of execution. They called the legislature into session, special session, and several of us had long talks with Pat's friends in the legislature. What the Democratic majority agreed to do was they decided that it would be introduced in the Senate first. So they called a special session and they appointed this committee. This committee had thirteen people on it. There was a lot of excitement and condemnation and praise, and all that. The legislature had a long hearing that went on way into the night, and proponents and opponents of capital punishment, and proponents and opponents of Caryl Chessman's execution came and had their say, so that it lasted well into the morning hours. I mean until after midnight. Then they voted seven to six to deny it, and the people said, "Gee, that's close." Hale and I said to each other, they could have made it any number they wanted.

That committee of the legislature understood what the governor was going through on that. They tried to let him down as easy as they could. Then the blasts began.


Hicke

You're saying that they made it as close as they could?


Poole

No, they let him down as well as they could.


Hicke

That's what I mean—by making it a close vote, yes.


Poole

I knew from the beginning how it was coming out. You could see it. Nobody came up and said, This is how the vote is going to be. That meeting was in March of 1960. Then after that, of course, they had to go back to the Superior Court. It's the Superior Court that has to fix the time. The Superior Court fixed the time and sent the warrant to the warden who had the custody of him. Then there was some effort at habeas corpus in various areas, and people called Brown a lot of names. They said he was a tower of


59
jelly, and it was what we thought was going to happen. It was probably the low time of his popularity in this state.

Then it began again—the marches, the slogans, and all that sort of thing. Pat went down to something in Los Angeles and he was booed. All kinds of efforts were made. As a matter of fact, Pat addressed that part of the Constitution that said that in the case of a person who shall have twice been convicted of felony, the governor shall be without power to grant pardon, commutation of sentence, but he has the power to reprieve. The rest of that section provided "except upon the written consent of a majority of the justices of the Supreme Court of California." Now, we knew what the vote was. We were quietly trying to work the Supreme Court. Pat had appointed one justice, Justice [Thomas P.] White, and Pat hoped that Justice White would support. The vote was apparently four to three. It was split.


Hicke

Against Pat?


Poole

Against him, yes. We went down there and Pat drove to a business committee meeting. I went with him, and the driver took me up to the California Supreme Court, and I talked with the chief justice [Phil Gibson]. The chief justice had previously said that the vote—this was before; we had talked of this earlier—he said that the Supreme Court is not going to make that request, "And I think if the governor insists upon it, they will write an opinion. He won't like it." I told that to Pat. Pat called him, knew him. I talked to the new justice; he wasn't new then, he'd been on there for a year and a half or so. But Justice White told me that he believed that this was a just sentence, "and furthermore," he said, "if I change my vote, it would have to be to repay the favor the governor did for me, appoint me, and I don't think he would want that to be the situation." I had no such scruples as that. [Laughter] But he said no. Pat talked to the chief justice, Phil Gibson, and that's the way it went down.

So we came up to the execution day. I had forgotten about a lot of this, except when I sit down like this and I think about. People would call my house. My wife would answer the phone, and they would just sob on the phone. They would be incoherent. People came from all over the world.


Hicke

Why do you think there was this huge public outcry?


Poole

Well, it became one of those issues that you could make the kind of issue you wanted. You could make it that this was a very evil man, if you wanted to. You could make it also that human life is precious, and he didn't kill anybody. If you have any


60
justification for capital punishment, he didn't kill anybody. This went on.


Hicke

So it stood for good and evil; it was kind of an allegory for good and evil?


Poole

Yes, yes, it was that way. So we came up to the night before the execution. He was executed, I think it was the second of May.


Hicke

Yes, that's the date I have.


Poole

Everything had failed. Pat finally had to tell the world that he was not going to try to stop the execution. The legislature had spoken. The courts—

##


Hicke

You just said, "the courts, by their silence, have spoken."


Poole

Yes. So the people thronged around San Quentin, and people thronged around the Capitol. Whenever there was an execution, I would always open up a line to the prison in San Quentin from my office in case anything would happen, so that I kept in touch with the warden. On this occasion, I moved over to the governor's office, into the office of one of his two secretaries where through the open door I would talk to the governor. He was at his desk.

They had taken Chessman out of his cell and had put him in a holding cell, which is adjacent to the execution chamber. I talked to the warden about it and asked him how he was. He said, "He's calm. We've got a lot of people out there, but those walls are pretty thick up at San Quentin. You don't hear a lot of them." He said he had done some writing of some letters. He had a little bit to eat about three o'clock this morning. I don't know how you can do it. So we talked, and every now and then Pat would say from his desk, "Anything doing?" And I would say, "No." Then I'd say, "Warden, I'm going to put my phone down, but I'm holding the line, okay?" He would say, "All right," and then I'd go and talk to Pat and tell him what happened. He would just sit there, and he was very quiet.

The execution was scheduled for ten o'clock in the morning. But I had made a firm arrangement with the prison people that they wouldn't start the execution for five minutes, just in case some judge wanted to stop it and his watch was slow. When the time was getting up there, the warden told me, he said, "Mr. Poole, I'm going to leave you now. I'm going to go and help escort the prisoner into the chamber, and the deputy warden here will be on


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the phone to you." I said, "All right." I could talk to the governor easily; he was maybe as far as from here to the hallway down there [demonstrates] in a fairly large room.


Hicke

Twenty feet?


Poole

I guess so. He was at his desk. I don't know what he was doing, but he was apparently busying himself, and I would give him a kind of a play-by-play of what was happening. I said, "The warden has left and he has turned me over to deputy warden, Akuff, to monitor the phone, the line here." Then I began to hear this noise. It was a noise something like water going through pipes. I said, "What's the noise?" He said, "They run these pipes through to see—it helps seal the room." I said, "Oh." Then I heard a faint metallic sound. He said, "That sound you heard," he told me how they did it. They have this acid bath and the pills get discharged into acid bath. That gets the cyanide gas coming up and the reaction. So when that came up and the deputy warden told me what that was, he paused a minute and he said, and I heard it again, he said, "Mr. Poole,"— It was a long time ago, but I still have to think of it. But he said, "The execution has begun. Tell the Governor no one can stop it now." I told the governor that, and he got up and walked out. He didn't come back anymore that day.

About three minutes into the execution, I heard a phone ringing in this warden's office where he was stationed, and I was cut in on it. It was Federal District Judge Louis Goodman, who was the chief judge of the district court there in San Francisco. He asked, "Has the execution started?" He was told, "Yes, Judge, it started." He said, "Well, you know, those fellows just came in to hand me this habeas corpus, and I had to see what it was." What had happened was the Supreme Court of California had granted them [the lawyers] an unexpected special hearing, which was announced at the night before, to be held at nine o'clock in the morning up at the State Building. It could have been 8:30, I'm not sure of this, but it was in the morning, and the execution was scheduled for 10:00.

And counsel got there and the Supreme Court of California heard them, and then I guess they took a recess for a couple of minutes, and then they came back and denied them. Instead of coming directly, or having somebody over there waiting to ask if they wanted a stay from the Federal District Court, they had a press conference. The press was there, and they stayed to chat with them, and Judge [Louis] Goodman said that they had just brought this thing to him. He had just looked at what it was, and so he came to try to stop it. I said, "Oh, my God." I had a pen in my hand and threw the damn thing down. One of my helpful


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assistants reached over and broke my connection with the prison. [laughter]

I tell you, I was about to go out of my mind, but my secretary—I've had some good people to help me in my lifetime—her name was Joyce McCreary and she was Australian born. Her husband was an engineer in Sacramento. Shortly after that, they left and went back to Australia. But she came back to this country. I don't know what's happened to Joyce since then. But Joyce said to me when I cursed, she said, "Be calm, I'll get it right back for you," and she did. She got the line back and the deputy warden said, "The doctors have pronounced him dead." So I said to him, I don't know who it was I was talking to, I said, "He's dead, he's dead, after all this time."

I didn't see Pat anymore that day. I don't think he ever came back that day. I think he got in his car and had them drive him somewhere. I got in my car and I was going to drive down here. I wanted to get out of Sacramento, but then I realized there might be some communication, some questions, and I probably better stay around to answer them, so I did. That's the way he went. It was something that I have never quite gotten over. When I saw Pat the next time, I'm sure it was the next day, I said, "I won't say to you what everybody said, which is that you tried, but you did." And he just shook his head, just shook his head. He said, "Do you suppose anybody thinks that this is a better world now?" I didn't have to answer him.

That was a very difficult time. I was there for another year, yes. That was, I guess, one of things that I had never been able to get out of my mind, the futility of that case, the futility. You know, you still have this problem of people believing that somehow the eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth is being manifested in capital punishment. But it's not, it's not at all. It's a feeling of malaise that people have, I think, and that is that we don't know how to handle this kind of thing. We don't really know, so the best thing to do is to do what we do. When we can't handle something, we get rid of it. That's how we face up to the problems that we can't solve. But we've made certain that this particular problem doesn't happen again.


Hicke

So the problem goes away, at least that particular one.


Poole

That particular problem goes away.


Hicke

Do you believe that the death penalty is a deterrent in any sense?


Poole

Deterrent to whom? It deters people who are not going to do it, I suppose. But that woman who walked into the courthouse the other


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day up there in northern California and killed this man for molesting her child—you know, I'm not sure that we have the whole story yet. We've had several in the recent days here, in recent months. It's a simile that, I think, in some minds that they think that by doing this, there is some expiation of sin, and that while this may not stop anybody else from doing it, society has rid itself of a person not worthy to live among us. And that's the part that bothers me.


Hicke

That goes back to the ancient Babylonians, doesn't it, that eye for an eye?


Poole

Self judgment on it. And we do it all with a lot of ceremony, a lot of ceremony.


Hicke

Maybe that's a good place to stop for today.


Poole

Okay. Well, that was a tough time. Pat—you've seen his book? [1]


Hicke

Yes, but not for a while. I read it quite a long while ago.


Poole

I don't read it anymore. But he was sort of caught in there. He would like to have been the governor who helped to end executions. But he wasn't anywhere close to being that.

I don't know. This woman walked into the courtroom and executed this fellow. There are all kinds of thoughts you have about that. I can make an assumption that he did what they charged him with. I can make that assumption. But, God, was it a good assumption, near assumption, or what? The press has gotten caught up on this with her, that she didn't fool around with it, she got rid of him. It's possible that man didn't have any people who were dependent on him or young children or hadn't done any good works in his life.


Hicke

We don't know that.


Poole

I don't know that at all.


Hicke

What do you see for the future of these kinds of situations?



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Poole

I don't see that any cessation of it is in the works for anytime soon.


Hicke

In California?


Poole

Not for California, and not for the United States, not for the country. Although, of course, you don't see executions in the federal side much anymore. What happened in that was there was a statute that did provide for the death penalty for murder and several other things, for espionage and all that. But most of them provided that for the commission of certain offenses, the punishment should be death or life imprisonment in the jury's discretion. The problem with that was there are no standards to tell the jury about what are the limits of your discretion that you have. And not having any such standards, that led the United States Supreme Court back in the good old days to abolish the capital punishment statute in most of the states, because all they said was, "Let the jury decide it." The Court said, "You've got to have standards," and that, I thought, was, in a sense, a failure to acknowledge our own needs. It wasn't a lack of standards. It was the fact that what we're saying is, When is it all right to take a human life? To take it with ceremony and pomp, all kinds of incantations, and high words, and writs, and charters, and all this, and then kill them.

I can understand soldiers. They're in the heat of battle. They fire, they've got a gun, and that's it. But we're not at war, are we? Well, I don't mean to preach.


Hicke

I think I've read that most other countries have abolished capital punishment, at least Western countries have.


Poole

Many have, I know that. And states—some of the states have abolished it. Michigan has been without it for a long time. You hear people saying, I'm a taxpayer and should I have to support this guy the rest of his life? [Laughter] That reminds me, when people say I'm a taxpayer. When I was first in the District Attorney's Office, for about six weeks I was supposed to learn about all the departments, and I was on what they called "the counter." That's where the citizens would come in and make these complaints, the barking dog cases and all that sort of stuff. They would come in, and I tell you, we learned something. "I'm a taxpayer." I'd say, "Oh, yes, by the way, we'd like to see your tax receipt. Do you have it with you?" [Laughter] They'd say, "What do you mean, have it with you?" "No offense, we can get it from the IRS." [Laughter] That was a great joke in the DA's office.


Hicke

That's excellent. Okay, well I think that's enough for today.