Former Death Row Murder Convict Arrested for Allegedly Killing Mother

Posted by Chris Morales on Fri, Jan 11, 2013 @ 03:04 PM

Dennis StanworthDennis Stanworth, 70, of Vallejo, CA, was arrested Thursday, January 10, 2013 on suspicion of the murder of his mother. This is not Stanworth's first arrest, however. Stanworth was sentenced to death in 1966 for kidnapping and shooting to death two teenage girls. His death sentence was eventually changed to life in prison, which then left Stanworth released on parole in 1990.

Admitted to killing his own mother

Stanworth called police at 11:55 am Wednesday and said he had killed his mother at his home. When officers arrived, Stanworth directed them to an area where they found the body of Nellie Turner Stanworth, 90. Police did not say how she was killed and weren't sure of a motive.

Philip Bensing, 78, a neighbor of the victim in a mobile-home park in American Canyon said Dennis Stanworth told him about a month ago that Nellie had died and been given a "military burial." That was a few months after Stanworth moved his mother into an assisted-living center, Bensing said. 

A Notorious Rapist & Murderer

Dennis Stanworth was sentenced to death in 1966 for kidnapping and shooting 2 teenage girls, ages 14 and 15, when he was 24. 5 years later, the California Supreme Court overturned his death sentence because of irregularities during jury selection.

Stanworth was again sentenced to death after a retrial, but that term was commuted to life in prison in 1974 after the state's capital punishment law was declared unconstitutional.

He was paroled in 1990, and for the past 2 decades has lived in a 3-bedroom home in Vallejo's Hiddenbrooke neighborhood with his wife and father-in-law. The only mark on his record in recent years appears to be a seat-belt violation in 2011.

Irving Vanderberg, who lives across the street, said he had seen Stanworth working out at a local gym and that he "was friendly to me. He didn't seem to be a mean person."

But his horrific past wasn't a secret in the quiet neighborhood. "Everybody in the neighborhood knew" that he had killed the two girls, said Vanderberg's wife. 

The 1966 Double Murder Stanworth in 1966

Stanworth was 24 years old on August 1, 1966, when he picked up Susan Box, 15, and Caree Collison, 14, both students at De Anza High School in El Sobrante, as they were hitchhiking in Pinole. He drove them to a spot overlooking San Pablo Bay, where he forced them at gunpoint to disrobe and shot Collison in the head when she tried to escape. Then he shot Box and had sex with her body, according to court records.

As he left the scene, he heard "one of the girls moan," court records said, so he fired more shots at them.

Before the killings, Stanworth kidnapped three young women in El Sobrante and Richmond in separate incidents in 1965 and 1966 and sexually assaulted them, court records show. He choked one of the women into unconsciousness, then told her when she awoke that "he was glad he had not killed her, that he was sorry for what had happened and that he would not do it again," according to court records.

Stanworth, who was an unemployed house painter with a wife and two children, pleaded guilty to murder and other charges, testifying that he "couldn't live with it anymore... I just had to tell somebody."

Stanworth wanted death

Stanworth later wrote to the California Supreme Court that he wanted to waive the automatic appeal of his death sentence because "it would save me many months of useless existence here on Death Row."

He added that he had dishonored his family and that he wanted to be put to an endless sleep as soon as possible to end all the pain and suffering he has caused.

But Stanworth's death sentence was twice reversed by the high court.

The first time, the court found that three prospective jurors had been improperly dismissed because they said they did not believe in the death penalty. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled a year earlier that such jurors shouldn't be automatically excluded from a death penalty case unless they make clear they can't impose capital punishment under any circumstance. They should have been questioned about whether they could nevertheless return a death verdict, the court said.

In 1974, his second death sentence was converted to life in prison along with 107 other California Death Row inmates when the state Supreme Court struck down capital punishment. California reinstated the death penalty in 1978, but those former death row inmates such as Stanworth kept their life sentences. Stanworth was deemed eligible eventually for parole - at that time, life without parole was not an option.

He was released from prison in 1990California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation records show Stanworth was released from parole in 1993, though he was still required to register as a sex offender.

Now Dennis Stanworth is being held without bail in Solano County Jail on suspicion of murder. (SFGate.com)

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Tags: Criminal Charges, murder, rape, assault, sexual assault, Sex Crimes, death row, death penalty