LOS ANGELES (CNS) – A judge Wednesday set a Sept. 21 hearing on a request by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office to re-sentence a man who was sentenced to death for killing two Marymount College students in a San Pedro supermarket parking lot to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
In a re-sentencing motion filed this month, Deputy District Attorney Shelan Joseph wrote that Raymond Oscar Butler is “not the same, cognitively immature teenager who murdered the two innocent victims in this case” and that “the interest of justice requires that the defendant be re-sentenced” to life without the possibility of parole.
Butler, who was 18 at the time of the crime and is now 46, was sentenced to death for the March 25, 1994, shooting deaths of Takuma Ito, a Japanese citizen, and Go Matsuura, a U.S. citizen who grew up primarily in Japan, in the parking lot of a Ralphs store.
Ito and Matsuura, both aspiring filmmakers, were shot once each in the back of the head. Ito’s Honda Civic was then stolen.
The murders of Ito and Matsuura stunned Japan, made headlines there and in the United States and prompted expressions of regret from then-President Bill Clinton and Walter Mondale, who was then the U.S. ambassador to Japan.
The prosecutor noted in her motion that the victims’ family members were sent electronic messages by the District Attorney’s Office under state law that notifies them about their right to be in court and that Matsuura’s father responded back, “I think California judicial system is the habeas itself. It contains no right for victim, and only the right for convicted.”
Following his conviction for the killings, Butler was found guilty and sentenced to death for his role in the March 26, 1995, jailhouse stabbing death of Tyrone Flemming in an attack that also involved two other jail inmates while Butler was awaiting trial for the murders of Ito and Matsuura.
“The fact that Butler is already serving a sentence of death on a separate case further mitigates toward a finding that it is not in the interest of justice to continue to litigate the instant matter,” Joseph wrote in her motion.
Outside court, Joseph said the District Attorney’s Office is “not even looking” at the case involving the jailhouse killing.
Butler — whose automatic appeal involving the jailhouse killing is still pending before the California Supreme Court — was tried twice and sentenced to death for Flemming’s slaying.
In a 2009 ruling, the state’s highest court reversed Butler’s conviction and death sentence after finding that a judge had “erroneously decided” that Butler could not act as his own attorney during his first trial because of restrictions in jail resulting from his disciplinary infractions.
Butler acted as his own attorney during his 2012 retrial on that killing, with a second jury convicting him and recommending a death sentence for him — a sentence handed down in May 2012.
During the penalty phase of his retrial, prosecutors introduced into evidence Butler’s convictions for murdering Ito and Matsuura.
Deputy District Attorney David Barkhurst told jurors that the evidence they heard during the guilt portion of the trial was “the tip of the iceberg.”
Butler has had a series of run-ins with fellow jail inmates, has had a number of weapons — including jail-made shanks — recovered from his cell, and has unleashed containers with feces and urine at prison guards who were bringing him library books or cleaning up trash, Barkhurst told jurors in 2012.
During the 2012 penalty phase of retrial, Butler called his mother, Donna Ray Butler, to testify on his behalf.
“You love me, correct?” Butler asked his mother.
“Yes, I do, very much,” she responded.
She said, “I stick behind my children. I love them unconditionally,” adding that he was “the apple of my eye” when he was born.
“Thank you, mother, I love you,” the defendant told his mother as he finished questioning her.