|The California Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the 1990 death sentence of a Peninsula serial killer, despite the fact his deteriorating mental condition on death row might prevent the state from ever executing him.
In a unanimous, 104-page ruling, the Supreme Court affirmed Jon Scott Dunkle's death sentence for murdering two Belmont boys in the early 1980s. Dunkle, who also was convicted for killing a third young boy from Sacramento, was branded a serial killer by police who hunted him for five years before connecting him to the slayings.
The Supreme Court three years ago took the unprecedented step of appointing Dunkle's lawyers as his legal guardians because he could no longer assist in his appeals and they needed legal authority to continue to pursue legal options on his behalf. A trial judge and prison psychiatrists have concluded Dunkle, now 45, is mentally ill.
The state cannot execute someone who is mentally incompetent, but Dunkle's appeals are moving forward nonetheless. In Thursday's ruling, the Supreme Court dealt solely with whether Dunkle's rights were violated at the 1990 trial in which a San Mateo County jury concluded he deserved to die.
The justices rejected all of Dunkle's legal challenges, including the argument that he should never have been found mentally competent to stand trial in the first place. The Supreme Court said there was sufficient expert evidence presented at the time to suggest Dunkle could understand the proceedings.
Dunkle's sanity has been an issue since he was arrested in 1986 for the Peninsula murders of 15-year-old John Davies and 12-year-old Lance Turner. Dunkle eventually confessed to killing Davies in 1981, Turner in 1984 and a 12-year-old boy in Sacramento in 1985.
Thursday's ruling is only the first stage in Dunkle's long appellate process, which is likely to take another decade or more in the state and federal courts.