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District Attorney Boudin Announces Agreement to Reduce the Death Sentence of the Last Person Remaining on Death Row out of San Francisco to a Life Sentence

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Rachel Marshall / (415) 416-4468 / Rachel.Marshall@sfgov.org

San Francisco, CA — Today, San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin announced that his office has agreed to reduce the sentence of Clifford Stanley Bolden, the last remaining person on California’s death row out of San Francisco county, to a 47 years-to-life sentence.  The District Attorney’s Office has agreed to resentence Mr. Bolden to the life sentence in exchange for Mr. Bolden forfeiting his appellate arguments and writ of habeas corpus petitions in federal and state court.  Under the agreement, Mr. Bolden, who has already served more than 34 years in prison for the crime, will not be eligible for parole until the age of 79.  Mr. Bolden, who is incarcerated in San Quentin State Prison where a COVID-19 outbreak has spread rapidly in recent days, was unable to appear in court today with his attorneys.  Today, the court resentenced Mr. Bolden according to the new agreement and in the interest of justice.   

“In recent years, an increasing number of Americans—and San Franciscans—have come to recognize that the death penalty is not only undeniably cruel and inconsistent with the values of a humane society, but also fails to deter or prevent crime,” said District Attorney Boudin.  “My office has not sought and will not seek the death penalty, and I am pleased that we have been able to ensure that no one previously sentenced in San Francisco will remain on death row either.  I hope that other prosecutors and political leaders in the country follow our lead—one that is consistent with Governor Newsom’s moratorium on the death penalty—and end this barbaric practice.”

A jury had convicted Mr. Bolden of first-degree murder and robbery with the special circumstance finding—which made him death penalty eligible—of the 1986 murder of Henry Michael Pedersen in the commission of a robbery.  The jury found him guilty and returned a penalty verdict of death in 1991. The judge sentenced him to 22 years for the robbery, which was stayed until the completion of the death sentence. 

Although Mr. Bolden’s conviction had been upheld in state court, Mr. Bolden had pending legal challenges to his sentence in federal court. The settlement reached with his federal attorneys would offer the reduced life sentence in exchange for foregoing further legal challenges.

In its motion seeking the resentencing, the District Attorney’s Office argued for the reduced life sentence in lieu of the death penalty for several reasons. First, the District Attorney’s Office emphasized that the resentencing was consistent with Governor Newsom’s moratorium on the death penalty, which was based in part on the enormous costs of the death penalty.  Estimates suggest that reducing one death sentence to a life in prison sentence saves up to $90,000 a year. 

Second, the District Attorney’s Office emphasized that there were no public safety concerns with the reduction, as under the agreement, Mr. Bolden would not be eligible for parole until the age of 79, at which point his release would be determined by a parole board, which rarely grants release at the first parole hearing.  Even if Mr. Bolden were to be granted release, statistics show he would be highly unlikely to recidivate at such an elderly age.

Mr. Bolden has already served over 34 years in state prison for the crime, and is the last remaining person on death row out of San Francisco.  The papers filed by the District Attorney’s Office also explained that during his time in prison, Mr. Bolden has not suffered a single serious rule violation in over 25 years.  

In addition, the District Attorney referenced Mr. Bolden’s writ of habeas corpus petition argument that Mr. Bolden had suffered from schizophrenia at the time of his offense—a fact that the jury that sentenced him to death had not known and might have considered.

The decision was praised by leaders in the movement to end the death penalty, including Sister Helen Prejean of the Minstry Against the Death Penalty.  “Hooray for DA Boudin’s LIFE over death choice once again for the last condemned human being on San Francisco’s death row,” said Sister Helen Prejean, who is internationally renowned for her tireless work against the death penalty and is the author of the book, Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States.  “Over the years, even as so many prosecutors demeaned and terminated human life by seeking death, the DAs of San Francisco have gleamed as a beacon of humanity by refusing to be a part of the culture of death. I thank God for you.”

Other anti-death penalty advocates also commended the reduction of Mr. Bolden’s sentence.  “The San Francisco District Attorney’s Office has demonstrated leadership in resolving this death-penalty case,” said Nancy Haydt, Executive Director of Death Penalty Focus. “Settlements, like this one, will ensure that criminal defendants serve significant prison sentences but have an opportunity to rehabilitate and re-enter society as reformed persons.  On behalf of Death Penalty Focus, we are grateful to D.A. Boudin and his team for exercising good judgment and saving taxpayer dollars.  I hope that more counties can follow San Francisco’s lead and work with the defense community to create practical settlements in death-penalty cases.”

Natasha Minsker, Coordinator of the California Anti-Death Penalty Coalition, agreed.  “The death penalty in America is a tool of racial oppression and a legacy of slavery,” she explained. “The people of San Francisco can be proud that their city is finally free of the death penalty.”