Commentary: Yolo Ponders Death Penalty for Serial Killer Amid a Disappearing National Capital Punishment

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Woodland, CA – On Friday, the Yolo County DA’s office announced that the death penalty was in consideration for the Davis suspected serial killer, Carlos Dominguez.

The DA’s press release said, “A Special Circumstance for Multiple Murders has been alleged which makes the case eligible for either Life without the Possibility of Parole, or the death penalty. The decision regarding whether to pursue the death penalty will be made at later date.”

It was a bit surprising to even see the option kept on the table—even if we suspect at some point soon the announcement to come that the prosecutor will seek life without parole rather than the death penalty.

While voters in Yolo County twice voted to end the death penalty, California voters have declined to end it.  But even without voter approval, the death penalty is slowly dying out.

There has not been an execution in California since 2006.  Governor Newsom imposed a moratorium on executions and cleared San Quentin’s death row.

But even more remarkably, across the entire nation the number of death sentences continues to decline.

In the early 1990s, there were over 300 death sentences a year in the US.  Last year, there were 22, the fewest in any year other than the pandemic-affected years of 2020 and 2021, according to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC).

In 2022, California imposed exactly two.  One in San Diego County and one in Tulare County.

According to DPIC, just 12 states imposed death sentences last year.  Florida imposed five. Alabama imposed three. California, Texas, and North Carolina each imposed two.  Florida and Alabama have replaced Texas as the death penalty capital of the world.

Only Arizona, California and Pennsylvania are outside of the south.

What’s interesting about that—all three states have moratoria on the death penalty.

In January, Arizona’s AG put on hold executions in the state until a review ordered by Governor Katie Hobbs could be completed.

According to NPR, “Arizona, which currently has 110 prisoners on death row, carried out three executions last year after a nearly eight-year hiatus that was brought on by criticism that a 2014 execution was botched and because of difficulties obtaining execution drugs.”

“These problems go back more than a decade,” said Dale Baich, a former federal public defender who teaches death penalty law at Arizona State University. “The department of corrections, the governor and the attorney general (in past administrations) ignored the issues and refused to take a careful look at the problems. Gov. Hobbs and Attorney General Mayes should be commended for taking this matter seriously.”

In Pennsylvania, Governor Josh Shapiro announced in February that he will not issue any execution warrants during his term and called on the General Assembly to join nearly half of the country in abolishing the death penalty for good.

In California, Newsom issued a moratorium, but has stopped short of issuing a blanket commutation for all death sentences.

But California continues to seek death sentences on a county-by-county basis.  For instance, in Riverside County a judge scheduled three potential death penalty cases starting in May, although two are still being litigated as to whether the death penalty would be thrown out due to the racial justice act.

In February, a Riverside judge denied a motion to strike the death penalty for two men in separate cases.

“In the process of deciding who winds up on death row in Riverside County, Black people are treated unequally at every step of the way from arrest all the way to death row when compared with white people,” stated Claudia Van Wyk from the ACLU Capital Punishment Project, who along with the Public Defender’s Office and ACLU of Southern California are representing the two men in this case.

Van Wyk explained that “for our two clients, we are seeking a hearing and a chance to prove that, um, the death penalty has been unequally applied to them.”

Last month, those attorneys challenged the legal basis for the judge’s ruling.

They argued, “Denial of the motion for a merits hearing on the CRJA was an abuse of discretion, contrary to the law, and a denial of petitioner’s due process and equal protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, the California Constitution and the controlling statutes.”

The charging decision by the DA in Yolo is important—even if there is a good chance no one will be executed going forward in California.

A death penalty case is far more expensive and cumbersome to try.  It would require both a guilt and penalty phase—and would ensure a lengthy trial.

Moreover, with a death-qualified jury, jurors who oppose the death penalty would be removed from the jury pool, making it more likely to find for guilt.

Given that there is effectively no death penalty in California, it seems likely that the prosecutors here would bypass the death penalty and instead seek life without parole.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Keith Olsen

    Why do I feel like I just read this same article a few days ago?  But hey, remember it’s not about DA Reisig because “there is no mention of Reisig in this article”, only the Yolo County DA’s office.

    1. Walter Shwe

      Wasn’t it you Keith that stated in a prior comment something like if you are not interested in an article, just don’t read it. The title of David’s piece clearly  describes the subject matter.

  2. Ron Glick

    I wonder who in the DA’s office issued the statement? Was it from the DA himself or someone less authoritative? It seems they were likely a little busy in that office last week trying to get the accused before a judge for a hearing. Could it be that whoever made the statement didn’t have the authority to make the decision and was simply punting the question for a while? Or maybe it was a this is what the law says but give us some time to figure everything out statement. I know you aren’t the only media that was on this point. The Chronicle had a story on it too. Making this a capital case won’t likely change the outcome in the end, as you point out, but it will add to the expense of the legal proceedings.

    There are so many unanswered questions in these three cases maybe it would be better to wait until the DA can gather the facts before reading too much into the statement of that will be decided “at later date.”

    I think Phil Coleman had this right the other day when he suggested standing down while people are still processing the nightmare that besieged this community for an entire week that ended less than a week ago.

    Personally, I’m glad this guy is off the street and can’t hurt anyone else in the community. If we need to we can argue about whether to give this guy the chair later. Now seems like its premature and divisive at a time that the community needs to come together and grieve.

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