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County killer loses death penalty appeal

County killer loses death penalty appeal

California Supreme Court upholds conviction and sentence for Juan Sanchez in 1997 double murder


TULARE COUNTY – A Tulare County killer will remain behind bars for the rest of his life following a recent ruling by the state’s highest court.

In a decision released on April 29, the California Supreme Court upheld the conviction and death sentence of Juan Sanchez, 54, for the first-degree murders of Ermanda Reyes and Lorena Martinez more than 20 years ago.  

In the early morning of Aug. 4, 1997, Sanchez entered the Porterville home of Reyes and her 17-year-old daughter, Lorena. Sanchez proceeded to sexually assault Lorena, then shot and killed both mother and daughter. Sanchez was convicted of their murders along with special circumstances of multiple murder and rape with a foreign object in 2004, and was sentenced to death. The case was prosecuted by current Assistant District Attorney David Alavezos.  

Sanchez’s primary arguments on appeal were that the youngest surviving son of Ermanda Reyes, who identified Sanchez as the person in the room when his mother attempted to call 911 immediately after being shot, should not have been allowed to testify since he was 8 years old at the time of the trial; and, that Sanchez’s confession to the murders should not have been heard by the jury.  

The California Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Sanchez’s confession and found that the testimony of Ermanda’s youngest son was legally admissible regardless of his age since he was able to distinguish between the truth and a lie and remembered that he told officers the truth on the morning his mother and sister were murdered. 

The ruling comes six weeks after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order issuing a moratorium on executions during his time in office because he felt the California’s capital punishment system was unevenly and unfairly applied to people of color, people with mental disabilities, and people who cannot afford costly legal representation.

“There is a reason why Californians support the death penalty, and that reason is Juan Sanchez,” said District Attorney Tim Ward. “Governor Newsom isn’t the only one protecting this killer; the broken death penalty process has done that for years. This defendant filed 38 requests to extend the time for filing his appeal and delayed this case for well over a decade. There must be truth in sentencing – victims are at least owed that.” 

Sanchez may continue his appeal by filing a writ of habeas corpus. 

Since 1978, California has spent $5 billion on a death penalty system that has executed 13 people. Three states — Oregon, Colorado and Pennsylvania — have Governor-imposed moratoria on the death penalty and in 2018, the Washington State Supreme Court struck down the death penalty as unconstitutional and “racially biased.”

There are 737 people currently on death row in California. California has the largest death row population in the Western Hemisphere — one in four people on death row in the United States are in California.

The last person to be executed in California was Clarence Ray Allen in 2006. Allen was convicted of three murders and conspired to have eight witnesses killed following the 1974 robbery he orchestrated at Fran’s Market in Fresno. The last person to be sentenced to death was a Tulare County man. Eric Jiminez, a Strathmore gang member who went by the name “Psycho,” was sentenced to death on Nov. 15, 2018 for strangling a man in 2012 and then burning his body and car to cover up the crime.

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