SAN QUENTIN (CBS13) – An inmate on death row at San Quentin State Prison was found dead in his cell Thursday morning.

James Leslie Karis, 61, was found unresponsive in hi single cell and pronounced dead at 6:40 a.m. The cause of death is pending autopsy results.

Karis was sentenced to death Sept. 17, 1982, by a Sacramento County jury for the July 8, 1981, rape and murder of Peggy Pennington, 34, and the attempted murder of Patty Vander Dussen, 27, according to the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Karis had abducted them during their daily walk around the block of the El Dorado County Welfare Department where both women were employed and took them to a remote area near Placerville.

Karis had been on death row since Sept. 20, 1982.

A federal judge overturned his death sentence in 1998 after hearing evidence of Karis’ tormented and abusive childhood. Karis faced a second trial in 2007 in Sacramento and refused to allow his lawyers to offer evidence of his childhood abuse or anything else that might win him a life sentence.

Since 1978 when California reinstated capital punishment, 57 condemned inmates have died from natural causes, 21 have committed suicide, 13 have been executed in California, one was executed in Missouri; and six have died from other causes. There are 729 prisoners currently on California’s death row.


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