Mother Lode Death Row

From the Calaveras Enterprise:


Earlier this month, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order placing a moratorium on the death penalty in California, citing a morally unjust and “failed” system that discriminates against the mentally ill, the impoverished and racial minorities.

Although the order does not alter any existing convictions or sentences, the lethal injection chamber at San Quentin State Prison has been shut down, and the 25 death row inmates who have exhausted their appeals will no longer be eligible for an execution date during Newsom’s term.

Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1978, the state of California has executed 13 inmates. The most recent execution was carried out in 2006.

With 737 inmates, California’s death row population is the largest in the nation. Calaveras County has produced some of the deadliest killers at San Quentin, with Wesley Shermantine, one of 81 inmates convicted of four or more killings, and Charles Ng – possibly the most prolific killer on death row – believed to have murdered as many as 25 men, women and children.


A memorial for the unidentified victims of Charles Ng and Leonard Lake at Peoples Cemetery in San Andreas. A mass grave was discovered at Lake’s Wilseyville cabin in 1985, containing as many as 25 victims.

A memorial for the unidentified victims of Charles Ng and Leonard Lake at Peoples Cemetery in San Andreas. A mass grave was discovered at Lake’s Wilseyville cabin in 1985, containing as many as 25 victims.


West Point property manager Sandy Maynard doesn’t like to revisit the memory of her one-time tenants Lonnie Bond, Brenda O’Connor and their infant son, murdered by Ng and his accomplice, Leonard Lake. However, she doesn’t mince her words when voicing her disapproval of the moratorium.

“I think we need the death penalty, and I think the governor is not acting in a way that the people support,” Maynard told the Enterprise.

Here are the Mother Lode murderers who are currently on death row.


Keith Adcox, 57

Modesto resident Keith Adcox was convicted of murdering fisherman David Orozco in 1982 while camping near the North Fork of the Tuolumne River. Adcox’s 16-year-old girlfriend, Annette Tillery, allegedly proposed that Adcox, then 20, and their 18-year-old acquaintance Howard Love kill a fisherman to obtain some money for cinnamon rolls. Adcox and Love accused each other of shooting Orozco in the head and stealing his wallet and car. The Tuolumne County Superior Court found both guilty, but Love was given a lesser sentence of life in prison. Adcox has been awaiting execution since 1983.


Jerry Frye, 63

Jerry Frye, of Sacramento, was convicted of murdering elderly prospectors Robert and Lucille Brandt in 1985 while he was cultivating a marijuana farm at a gold mining claim in Amador County. According to his girlfriend’s testimony, Frye shot the couple with a shotgun inside their cabin, stealing their cash and gold. He was arrested months later in South Dakota after a domestic disturbance and admitted to the officer that he was wanted for double-murder. He was extradited to Amador County and sentenced to death in 1988.


Charles Ng, 58

Charles Ng and his accomplice, Leonard Lake, are believed to have raped, tortured and murdered as many as 25 victims in the mid-1980s at a “dungeon” near Lake’s cabin in Wilseyville. Lake died in custody after swallowing cyanide pills, and Ng was extradited to Calaveras County after fleeing to Canada. He was later tried in Orange County and convicted of 11 homicides, condemned by evidence including a mass grave, journaled accounts and video footage the pair compiled during their killings. Ng has remained on death row since 1999.


Wesley Shermantine, 53

One half of the “Speed Freak Killers,” Wesley Shermantine is suspected of committing dozens of murders in a methamphetamine-fueled killing spree between 1984 and 1999, along with his longtime friend, Loren Herzog. The deadly duo, from Linden, was convicted in the deaths of 25-year-old Cyndi Vanderheiden and 16-year-old Chevelle “Chevy” Wheeler, whose bodies were uncovered near San Andreas in 2012, as well as several other murders throughout Calaveras and San Joaquin counties. Herzog’s conviction was overturned and his sentence was reduced due to faulty police work, but he later hung himself after learning that Shermantine had released the location of a well site in Linden that proved to be a mass grave. Shermantine has claimed 72 murders and was convicted of four. He was sentenced to death in 2001.


Cary Stayner, 57

While working as a handyman at Cedar Lodge near Yosemite National Park in 1999, Cary Stayner went on a killing spree. He was convicted of kidnapping and murdering hotel guests Carole Sund, her 15-year-old daughter Juli Sund, and 16-year-old Argentinian exchange student Silvina Pelosso, as well as 26-year-old naturalist Joie Ruth Armstrong. Carole Sund’s and Pelosso’s remains were discovered in Sund’s charred rental car in Tuolumne County. Juli Sund’s body was located days later after Stayner sent a letter to the FBI, and Armstrong’s decapitated body was found a few months later. Stayner was arrested within the year at a nudist resort and confessed to the murders. The defendant’s lawyers argued that he suffered from mental illness and had a history of abuse, but Stayner was found sane and was sentenced to death in 2002.