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San Quentin Prison
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation state prison for men
Opened in July 1852, San Quentin (called "The Arena" by prisoners) is the oldest prison in California. The state's only death row for male inmates, the largest in the United States, is located at the prison. It has a gas chamber, but since 1996, executions at the prison have been carried out by lethal injection, though the prison has not performed an execution since 2006. The prison has been featured on film, radio drama, video, podcast, and television; is the subject of many books; has hosted concerts; and has housed many notorious inmates.
San Quentin's East Gate, the primary entrance for visitors and volunteers
The San Quentin Handicraft Shop, where art created by people incarcerated in the prison is sold. Money from sales goes to the Inmate Welfare Fund and restitution
The correctional complex sits on Point San Quentin, which consists of 432 acres (1.75 km2) on the north side of San Francisco Bay. The prison complex itself occupies 275 acres (1.11 km2), valued in a 2001 study at between $129 million and $664 million.
As of April 30, 2020, San Quentin was incarcerating people at 122.5% of its design capacity, with 3,776 occupants.
Men condemned to death in California (with some exceptions) must be held at San Quentin, while condemned women are held at Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla. As of December 2015, San Quentin held almost 700 male inmates in its Condemned Unit, or "death row." As of 2001, San Quentin's death row was described as "the largest in the Western Hemisphere"; as of 2005, it was called "the most populous execution antechamber in the United States." The states of Florida and Texas had fewer death row inmates in 2008 (397 and 451 respectively) than San Quentin.
The death row at San Quentin is divided into three sections: the quiet "North-Segregation" or "North-Seg," built in 1934, for prisoners who "don't cause trouble"; the "East Block," a "crumbling, leaky maze of a place built in 1927"; and the "Adjustment Center" for the "worst of the worst." Most of the prison's death row inmates reside in the East Block. The fourth floor of the North Block was the prison's first death row facility, but additional death row space opened after executions resumed in the U.S. in 1978. The adjustment center received solid doors, preventing "gunning-down" or attacking persons with bodily waste. As of 2016[update] it housed 81 death row inmates and four non-death row inmates. A dedicated psychiatric facility serves the prisoners. A converted shower bay in the East Block hosts religious services. Many prison programs available for most inmates are unavailable for death row inmates.
Although $395 million was allocated in the 2008-2009 state budget for new death row facilities at San Quentin, in December 2008 two legislators introduced bills to eliminate the funding. The state had planned to build a new death row facility, but GovernorJerry Brown canceled those plans in 2011. In 2015 Brown asked the Legislature for funds for a new death row as the current death row facilities were becoming filled. At the time the non-death row prison population was decreasing, opening room for death row inmates. As of 2015[update] the San Quentin death row has a capacity of 715 prisoners.
Lethal injection room in San Quentin
All executions in California (male and female) take place at San Quentin. The execution chamber is located in a one-story addition close to the East Block. Women executed in California are transported to San Quentin by bus before being put to death.
The methods for execution at San Quentin have changed over time. Prior to 1893, the counties executed convicts. Between 1893 and 1937, 215 people were executed at San Quentin by hanging, after which 196 prisoners died in the gas chamber. In 1995, the use of gas for execution was ruled "cruel and unusual punishment", which led to executions inside the gas chamber by lethal injection. Between 1996 and 2006, 11 people were executed at San Quentin by lethal injection.
In April 2007, staff of the California Legislative Analyst's Office discovered that a new execution chamber was being built at San Quentin; legislators subsequently "accuse[d] the governor of hiding the project from the Legislature and the public." The old lethal injection facility had included an injection room of 43 square feet (4.0 m2) and a single viewing area; the facility that was being built included an injection chamber of 230 square feet (21 m2) and three viewing areas for family, victim, and press. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger stopped construction of the facility the next week. The legislature later approved $180,000 to finish the project, and the facility was completed.
In addition to state executions, three federal executions have been carried out at San Quentin.Samuel Richard Shockley and Miran Edgar Thompson had been incarcerated at Alcatraz Island federal penitentiary and were executed on December 3, 1948, for the murder of two prison guards during the Battle of Alcatraz. Carlos Romero Ochoa had murdered a federal immigration officer after he was caught smuggling illegal immigrants across the border near El Centro, California. He was executed at San Quentin's gas chamber on December 10, 1948.
On March 13, 2019, after Governor Gavin Newsom ordered a moratorium on the state's death penalty, the state withdrew its current lethal injection protocol, and San Quentin dismantled and indefinitely closed its gas and lethal injection execution chambers.
Prison to Employment Connection, A Better Way Out - Prison to Employment Connection is offered to inmates at San Quentin State Prison who are close to their release dates or have a scheduled Parole Board Hearing. After successfully completing a rigorous 14-week employment readiness program, inmates are invited to an Employer Day. Potential employers (PEC Partners) come to the prison to interview inmates, review their resumes, and offer guidance and support for potential employment upon release.
VVGSQ - Vietnam Veterans Group San Quentin - Although the group had been meeting for some time, the name officially began on April 7, 1987. In 1988 they started the annual Christmas Toy giveaway, giving toys to visiting children. In 1989 they began the annual scholarship fund for high school seniors. They spend their time raising money and since 1987 have given over $80,000 to the community.
The Last Mile started in 2011 under Chris Redlitz (entrepreneur and venture capital) initiative. The program aims to give resources and mentorship to inmates to help them find their way into tech startup entrepreneurship and reduce the rate of recidivism.
The San Quentin Drama Workshop began at the prison in 1958 after a performance of Waiting for Godot the previous year.
The San Quentin SQUIRES ("San Quentin Utilization of Inmate Resources, Experiences, and Studies") program, which began in 1964, is reported to be the "oldest juvenile awareness program in the United States." It involves inmates at the prison interacting with troubled youths for the purpose of deterring them from crime, and was the subject of a 1978 documentary film Squires of San Quentin. In 1983, a randomized controlled study was published that found that the program produced no overall reduction in delinquency. The program was still functional as of 2008.
Since the 1920s, San Quentin inmates have been allowed to play baseball. Starting in 1994 inmates have played against players from outside the prison. The games occur twice a week through the summer. Originally the Pirates, the team of prisoners is called the "Giants" in honor of the San Francisco Giants, who donated uniforms to the team. A second team called the Athletics was later started, named after the Oakland Athletics. The team of outside players is called the "Willing". The umpires and fans are inmates, but the coaches on the field are volunteers. Although some people question the appropriateness of baseball games being held at the prison, officials believe "organized sports is a way to keep inmates occupied and perhaps teach a few lessons on getting along with others." These games were detailed in a Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel episode on June 20, 2006, and in several other documentaries.
San Quentin has the only on-site college degree-granting program in California's entire prison system, which began in 1996 and which is currently run by the Prison University Project.
No More Tears Program, co-founded by incarcerated men at San Quentin. This program is committed to stopping the violence in the community and changing the mindset. This program stays alive through donations, volunteers, and CDCR who come into the prison and become involved in the workshops with the incarcerated men: Changing the mindset, Response to Violence, Employability, Fixin' da Hood. All inmates and volunteers are working toward achieving the program's mission: stopping the tears of loved ones and family by being committed to stopping the youth from committing acts of violence.
Though numerous towns and localities in the area are named after Roman Catholic saints, and "San Quintín" is Spanish for "Saint Quentin", the prison was not named after the saint. The land on which it is situated, Point Quentin, is named after a Coast Miwok warrior named Quentín, fighting under Chief Marin, who was taken prisoner at that place.
In 1851, California's first prison opened; it was a 268-ton wooden ship named the Waban, anchored in San Francisco Bay and outfitted to hold 30 inmates. After a series of speculative land transactions and a legislative scandal, inmates who were housed on the Waban constructed San Quentin which "opened in 1852 with 68 inmates." A dungeon built at San Quentin in 1854 is thought to be California's oldest surviving public work.
One example of a noteworthy leader at San Quentin was Warden Clinton Duffy from 1940 to 1952. Warden Duffy was a man of contradictions. His public persona was quite positive because of his fresh insights informing the reorganization of the prison structure and reformation of prison management. Prior to Duffy, San Quentin had gone through years of violence, inhumane punishments and civil rights abuses against prisoners. The previous warden was forced to resign. Duffy had the offending prison guards fired and added a librarian, psychiatrists, and several surgeons at San Quentin. Duffy's press agent publicized sweeping reforms; however, San Quentin remained a brutal prison where prisoners continued to be beaten to death. The use of torture as an approved method of interrogation at San Quentin was banned in 1944.
In 1941 the first prison meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous took place at San Quentin; in commemoration of this, the 25-millionth copy of the AA Big Book was presented to Jill Brown, of San Quentin, at the International Convention of Alcoholics Anonymous in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
In 1947, Warden Duffy recruited Herman Spector to work as assistant warden at San Quentin. Spector turned down the invitation to be assistant warden and chose instead to become senior librarian if he could institute his theories on reading as a program to encourage pro-social behavior. By 1955, Spector was being interviewed in library journals and suggesting the prison library could contribute significantly to rehabilitation.
The dining hall of the prison is adorned by six 20 ft (6.1 m) sepia toned murals depicting California history. They were painted by Alfredo Santos, one-time convicted heroin dealer and successful artist, during his 1953-1955 incarceration.
Lawrence Singleton, who raped a teenaged girl and cut off her forearms, spent a year on parole in a trailer on the grounds of San Quentin between 1987 and 1988 because towns in California would not accept him as a parolee. Between 1992 and 1997, a "boot camp" was held at the prison that was intended to "rehabilitat[e] first-time, nonviolent offenders"; the program was discontinued because it did not reduce recidivism or save money.
A 2005 court-ordered report found that the prison was "old, antiquated, dirty, poorly staffed, poorly maintained with inadequate medical space and equipment and overcrowded." Later that year, the warden was fired for "threaten[ing] disciplinary action against a doctor who spoke with attorneys about problems with health care delivery at the prison." By 2007, a new trauma center had opened at the prison and a new $175 million medical complex was planned.
In 2020, the prison became the center of a COVID-19 outbreak, after a group of prisoners were transferred to San Quentin from the California Institution for Men in Chino, California. Initial reports suggested that San Quentin officials were told that the new inmates had all tested negative; however, few had been tested at all. By June 22, at least 350 inmates and staff had tested positive, in what a federal judge called a "significant failure" of policy.
San Quentin up close.
San Quentin prisoners on recreation
Isauro Aguirre (born 1980): tortured and killed girlfriend's 8-year-old son Gabriel Fernandez along with his girlfriend Pearl Fernandez. Aguirre was sentenced to death and Fernandez to life in prison in 2014. The case was the subject of the Netflix series The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez.
Alejandro Avila (born 1971): the rapist and murderer of 5-year-old Samantha Runnion. Sentenced to death in 2005.
Richard Delmer Boyer (born 1958): convicted for stabbing an elderly couple to death while high on alcohol and drugs. Claimed to have been partly influenced by a scene in Halloween II. Sentenced to death in 1984.
Luis Bracamontes (born 1970): undocumented immigrant who shot and killed two Sacramento police officers and injured a civilian and a third officer. Sentenced to death in 2018.
Vincent Brothers (born 1962): convicted in the shooting and stabbing of five members of his family, including three children. Sentenced to death in 2007.
Albert Greenwood Brown (born 1954): convicted rapist and child molester who raped and murdered a teen girl in 1980. Sentenced to death in 1982.
Brandon Browner (born 1984): former NFL player found guilty of attempted murder, currently serving 8 year sentence.
David Carpenter (born 1930): the "Trailside Killer." Sentenced to death in 1984 and 1988. Carpenter is the oldest inmate currently.
Dean Carter (born 1955): serial killer convicted of murdering four women. Sentenced to death in 1985.
Steven David Catlin (born 1944): serial killer who poisoned two wives and his mother. Sentenced to death in 1990.
Doug Clark (born 1948): serial killer and necrophile who killed six women with a female accomplice. Sentenced to death in 1983.
Kevin Cooper (born 1958): convicted for the hatchet and knife massacre of the Ryen family. Sentenced to death in 1985.
Tiequon Cox (born 1965): sentenced to death in 1986 for the 1984 murders of four relatives of the former defensive back NFL player Kermit Alexander. He was involved in an escape attempt in 2000.
Jonathan Daniel D'Arcy (born 1962): a janitor from Buena Park, was convicted of first-degree murder in the February 2, 1993 burning death of Karen Marie Laborde, a 42-year-old mother of two who identified D'Arcy as her assailant before she died. D'Arcy was sentenced to death in Orange County on April 11, 1997.
Skylar Deleon (born 1979): former child actor and triple murderer responsible for the deaths of Thomas and Jackie Hawks. Sentenced to death in 2009. One of her accomplices, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, was also sentenced to death in 2009.
John Famalaro (born 1950): sentenced to death on September 6, 1997 for the kidnap, rape, and murder of 23-year-old Denise Anette Huber, from Newport Beach, California, in 1991. Famalaro abducted and murdered Denise on June 3, 1991. He was caught in July 1994 when police found her body in an icebox where he had kept her for three years.
Richard Farley (born 1948): convicted of killing seven of his co-workers and nearly killing another, a female co-worker whom he stalked after she rejected him. Sentenced to death in 1992.
Wayne Adam Ford (born 1961): convicted of killing four women in 1997 and 1998. Sentenced to death in 2006.
Rickie Lee Fowler (born 1984): convicted of setting the Old Fire that caused the deaths of five people. Sentenced to death in 2012.
Larry Hazlett (born 1948): convicted of the 1978 rape and murder of 20-year-old Rosamond beauty queen Tana Woolley. Sentenced to death in 2004.
Glenn Helzer (born 1970): founder of the Children of Thunder cult, alongside his brother Justin Helzer and his girlfriend Dawn Godman, who murdered five people in 2000. Sentenced to death in 2005. Justin hung himself in 2013.
Ivan Hill (born 1961): serial killer who killed at least nine women from 1979 to 1994. Sentenced to death in 2007.
Michael Hughes (born 1956): serial killer who killed at least seven women from 1986 to 1993. Sentenced to death in 1998.
Emrys John, Tyrone Miller, and Kesaun Sykes: former marines convicted of torturing and murdering Jan Pawel and Quiana Jenkins Pietrzak in 2008. All three were sentenced to death while a fourth accomplice, Kevin Cox, was sentenced to life in prison.
Randy Kraft (born 1945): serial killer who was convicted of 16 murders and suspected of 51 others. Sentenced to death in 1989.
Gunner Lindberg (born 1975): stabbed a Vietnamese man to death in a racially motivated attack. Sentenced to death in 1996.
Jarvis Jay Masters (born 1962): convicted and sentenced to death for participating in the murder of Corrections Officer Hal Burchfield. Sentenced to death in 1990.
Charles "Chase" Merritt (born 1957): murdered the McStay family for financial gain. Sentenced to death in 2020.
Andrew Mickel (born 1979): shot a police officer to death at a gas station. Sentenced to death in 2006.
Michael Morales (born 1959): convicted for the brutal murder of Terri Winchell. Sentenced to death in 1983.
Joseph Naso (born 1934): serial killer who raped and murdered at least six women. Sentenced to death in 2013.
Charles Ng (born 1960): serial killer who tortured and murdered 11 people. Sentenced to death in 1999.
Raymond Lee Oyler (born 1971): convicted of setting the Esperanza Fire that claimed the lives of five firemen. Sentenced to death in 2009.
Gerald Parker (born 1955): serial killer and rapist who killed at least six women and an unborn baby. Sentenced to death in 1999.
Scott Peterson (born 1972): convicted of murdering his pregnant wife, Laci and their unborn child, Conner, in a much-publicized trial. Sentenced to death in 2005.
Cleophus Prince Jr. (born 1967): serial killer who raped and murdered six women in San Diego in 1990. Sentenced to death in 1993.
David Allen Raley (born 1961): security guard who kidnapped and tortured two teenage girls, killing one of them. Sentenced to death in 1988.
Ramon Salcido (born 1961): convicted in 1989 of seven murders, including six relatives and his boss. Sentenced to death in 1990.
Vincent Sanchez (born 1973): the "Simi Valley Rapist". Serial rapist convicted of 75 counts including a first degree murder charge, felony kidnapping, burglary, rape, and other sex offense charges against numerous victims. Sentenced to death in 2003.
Wesley Shermantine (born 1966): one half of the Speed Freak Killers serial killer duo, believed to have killed as many as 70 people. Sentenced to death in 2001. His accomplice, Loren Herzog, committed suicide in 2012.
Mitchell Sims (born 1960): convicted May 20, 1987, of the hotel-room murder of Domino's Pizza deliveryman John Harrington in Glendale; also sentenced to death in South Carolina for the murders of two Domino's employees in that state. Sentenced to death in 1987.
Curtis Carroll (born 1968): Financial adviser whose insights into investing and trading stock have earned the nickname "Wall Street". Carroll is serving a sentence of 54 years to life, for murder. Incarcerated in Pelican Bay State Prison.
Louis Crane: serial killer who killed at least 4 women. Died from AIDS complications in hospital in 1989.
John Linley Frazier: mass murderer and religious fanatic. Sentenced to death in 1971 but commuted to life in prison. Committed suicide by hanging in Mule Creek State Prison in 2009.
Gerald Gallego: serial killer and rapist who kidnapped young girls to keep as sex slaves before killing them with his wife as an accomplice. Was initially sentenced to death in San Quentin but was transferred to Nevada State Prison in 1984 to be executed for murders committed in that state. Died from cancer in Nevada Prison in 2002.
Alex García: boxer and former gang member who stabbed a rival to death.
Jim Mitchell, prominent in the strip club and pornography businesses in San Francisco, spent 1994-1997 in San Quentin for murdering his brother Artie.
Thomas Mooney: political activist and labor leader who was wrongly accused of the San Francisco Preparedness Day Bombing of 1916. Originally sentenced to death and then life in prison before being pardoned in 1939.
Ed Morrell, accomplice to the Evans-Sontag rail robbery gang; spent five years in solitary confinement; known as the "Dungeon Man" of San Quentin; pardoned in 1908 and became a well-known advocate of prison reform.
Abe Ruef: San Francisco political boss, for bribery.
San Quentin Six: six inmates who participated in a riot during an escape attempt in 1971 that resulted in the deaths of six people. Fleeta Drumgo was shot dead after he was released in 1979 and Hugo Pinell was stabbed to death during a riot in 2015 after spending 45 years in solitary confinement.
Lawrence Singleton: raped and cut the forearms off a teenage girl before leaving her for dead. Was controversially released after serving eight years and was forced to live on the grounds of San Quentin in a trailer while on parole. Murdered a woman in Florida and died in North Florida Reception Center in 2001.
John Pence Wagner: prison evangelist-inmate between 1966 and 1972. writer of the poem featured on the rear cover of the 1971 album "Guilty!" by Jimmy Witherspoon and Eric Burdon. Died from cancer in 1999.
Tex Watson: a former associate of the Charles Manson "Family" currently serving a life sentence in prison.
Earlonne Woods: convicted of attempted armed robbery. Most known for his work in co-creating and co-hosting the award-winning podcast, Ear Hustle along with Nigel Poor. His sentence was commuted by Governor Jerry Brown on November 30, 2018.
Mack Ray Edwards: child killer who buried bodies under freeways he worked on. Committed suicide by hanging on October 30, 1971.
Richard Chase: "vampire killer," in 1979 sentenced to death in gas chamber for murdering six people. Committed suicide by drug overdose on December 26, 1980.
James Mitose: martial artist convicted of murder. Died from diabetes complications on March 26, 1981.
Stuart Alexander: convicted in the 2000 shooting deaths of three USDA meat officials he claimed were harassing him. Sentenced to death in 2004. Died from a pulmonary embolism on December, 27, 2005.
Brandon Wilson: convicted in the 1998 slashing death of nine-year-old Matthew Cecchi. Sentenced to death in 1999. Committed suicide on November 17, 2011.
J. C. X. Simon: member of a group of Black Muslims who committed racially motivated murders in San Francisco in the 1970s known as the Zebra murders. Found dead in his cell on March 12, 2015.
Lonnie David Franklin, Jr.: convicted of ten murders and one attempted murder in Los Angeles, California. The attacker was dubbed the "Grim Sleeper" because he appeared to have taken a 14-year break from his crimes from 1988 to 2002. Found dead in his cell on March 28, 2020.
The San Quentin gas chamber originally employed lethal hydrogen cyanide gas for the purpose of carrying out capital punishment. It was later converted to a lethal injection execution chamber but was restored to its original purpose when a new lethal injection chamber was built.
Theodore Durrant: convicted of murdering two women in San Francisco. Executed by hanging on January 7, 1898.
Mose Gibson: convicted of murdering a man but confessed to seven total murders before his death. Executed by hanging on September 24, 1920.
William Edward Hickman: convicted of kidnapping, mutilating, and murdering 12-year-old Marion Parker, died by hanging on October 19, 1928.
David Mason: convicted of murdering five people, he was the last man to be executed in the gas chamber on August 24, 1993.
William Bonin: convicted of 14 murders, the "Freeway Killer" (one of three men to have the same nickname) became the first person in California history to be executed by lethal injection on February 23, 1996.
Clarence Ray Allen: convicted for ordering the killing of three people. At age 76, he was the oldest person ever executed in California (by lethal injection on January 17, 2006) and the last in the entire state of California .
San Quentin is on the rotation of prisons featured on MSNBC's show Lockup, a TV documentary series on life in prison.
Performances and music videos
Country music singer Johnny Cash performed at San Quentin at least twice in his career. The first was in 1958, which included among its audience members a young and incarcerated Merle Haggard; Haggard was inspired to pursue music after being released in part because of that concert. Eleven years later, on February 24, 1969, Cash played another live concert for the prison inmates. The 1969 concert was released as an album At San Quentin and as a television documentary Johnny Cash in San Quentin (filmed by Granada Television). "A Boy Named Sue," taken from the concert, was Cash's only Billboard Hot 100 top ten hit, peaking at number two, and winning the 1970 Grammy Award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance. During the concert, the song "San Quentin," about an inmate's loathing for the prison, received such an enthusiastic response that Cash immediately played an encore.
On November 19th 1957 San Francisco Actors Workshop put on a performance of Waiting for Godot, despite concerns the audience of 1'400 prisoners wouldn't understand the play it received a standing ovation and would inspire inmates to perform the play
In 2003, heavy metal band Metallica filmed the music video for their song "St. Anger" from the album of the same name in San Quentin, which featured many of the prison inmates and security staff, and also included then-new bassist Robert Trujillo for the first time since being inducted into the band.
Gang-pulp author Margie Harris wrote a story on San Quentin for the short-lived pulp magazinePrison Stories. The story, titled "Big House Boomerang," appeared in the March 1931 issue. It used San Quentin's brutal jute mill as its setting. Harris' knowledge of the prison came from her days as a newspaper reporter in the Bay Area, and her acquaintance with famous San Quentin prisoner Ed Morrell.
The 1915 novel The Star Rover by Jack London was based in San Quentin. A framing story is told in the first person by Darrell Standing, a university professor serving life imprisonment in San Quentin State Prison for murder. Prison officials try to break his spirit by means of a torture device called "the jacket," a canvas jacket which can be tightly laced so as to compress the whole body, inducing angina. Standing discovers how to withstand the torture by entering a kind of trance state, in which he walks among the stars and experiences portions of past lives.
Ear Hustle is a podcast created by Earlonne Woods with the help of Nigel Poor. Interviews inmates at San Quentin about life on the inside.
^ abLegislative Counsel of California. Penal Code section 3600-3607Archived 2009-05-13 at the Wayback Machine. Accessed January 13, 2009. "The judgment of death shall be executed within the walls of the California State Prison at San Quentin." and "Upon the affirmance of her appeal, the female person sentenced to death shall thereafter be delivered to the warden of the California state prison designated by the department for the execution of the death penalty,[...]"
^Pishko, Jessica (29 Jan 2014). "The News from San Quentin, Part 1". Gunerica. Archived from the original on 1 February 2014. Retrieved 2014. The San Quentin News staff produce a 20-page paper that matches any outside publication in quality and depth of reporting although, unlike most publications, the subject matter focuses on the world within the walls of San Quentin: sports rivalries, notable staff retirements, and the success of rehabilitative programs
^Gladstone, Mark. San Quentin 'decrepit' - medical experts decry state of facility inspectors find 'cruelty and neglect,' say health care mandate is ignored investigating state prisons. San Jose Mercury News, April 14, 2005.
^Morrison, Patt. Final legal war troubling to both sides. Reaction: Most remain firm in views on capital punishment. But many agree that chaotic court wrangling added an aura of inhumanity to the proceedings. Los Angeles Times, April 22, 1992.