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Raymond Oscar BUTLER





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Robbery - Carjacking
Number of victims: 3
Date of murders: March 25, 1994/March 26, 1995
Date of birth: 1975
Victims profile: Takuma Ito and Go Matsuura (19-year-old film students) / Tyrone Flemming, 23 (fellow inmate)
Method of murder: Shooting / Stabbing with homemade  knife
LocationLos Angeles County, California, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on July 29, 1996

Supreme Court of California

opinion S068230
opinion S055501

Sentenced: July 29, 1996, age 21

Crimes: Murder, robbery, carjacking

Date of crimes: March 25, 1994, and March 26, 1995

Location: Western Avenue at Capitol Drive, San Pedro, county jail

Victims: Takuma Ito and Go Matsuura, both 19 of Japan; Tyrone Flemming, 23, of Los Angeles

Status: Briefed on appeal, awaiting argument

Butler shot the Marymount College exchange students during a late-night carjacking.

Butler approached Matsuura as he stood next to Ito’s white 1994 Honda Civic in the supermarket parking lot, forced him to kneel down and shot him execution-style. Ito, sitting in the driver’s seat, also was shot in the head at point-blank range.

Butler drove off in the car.

The killings devastated students at the Rancho Palos Verdes college, where the young men studied filmmaking.

It also touched off an international incident. In Japan, U.S. Ambassador Walter F. Mondale called it “the saddest day in my time here as ambassador” and issued an apology on behalf of President Clinton.

Awaiting trial, Butler helped two other men stab fellow county jail inmate Flemming to death. Butler received a second death penalty sentence in 1997.


California Supreme Court upholds Butler death sentence

By Larry Altman -

June 18, 2009

The California Supreme Court has upheld the death sentence for a San Pedro man convicted of carjacking and killing two Marymount College exchange students 15 years ago.

The court announced Thursday it had rejected defense claims challenging the sentence of Raymond Oscar Butler, who was convicted in 1996 of killing 19-year-old film students Takuma Ito and Go Matsuura on March 24, 1994.

Ito and Matsuura were shot to death in the Ralphs supermarket parking lot on Western Avenue in San Pedro. Ito was a Japanese citizen and Matsuura was American but grew up in Japan.

The killings created headlines in Japan, shocking Japanese citizens and embarrassing the United States. President Bill Clinton apologized to Japanese Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa for the deaths on his country's soil.

A Long Beach Superior Court jury of seven men and five women convicted Butler of two counts each of first-degree murder, second-degree robbery and carjacking, along with special allegations of multiple murders and that the crimes were committed during the commission of a robbery.

Judge James Pierce imposed the jury's later recommendation that Butler, now 34, should face the death penalty.

Ito and Matsuura became victims when they stopped in the parking lot after dining at a Gardena restaurant with two friends. They were trying to decide where the friends would stay during spring break while their campus in Rancho Palos Verdes was closed.

Butler approached them, demanded Ito's wallet, ordered him to lie on the ground and shot him in the back of the head.

He then fired several times into the car, striking Matsuura in the head at close range.

Butler drove away in Ito's 1994 Honda Civic, which was found the next day. Butler was arrested a few days later.

Defense attorneys claimed Pierce erred when he directed jurors to continue deliberations on two occasions when they said they were deadlocked.

One of the 12 jurors was holding out for a not-guilty verdict when the panel was sent back after the second deadlock. A unanimous verdict was reached the next morning.

The Supreme Court also said Pierce committed no other substantial errors in handling the case.

Butler received a second death sentence in 1998 for helping two men kill a fellow inmate in county jail while awaiting his trial in the Ito and Matsuura case.

The sentence in the March 26, 1995, slaying of Tyrone Flemming, 23, of Los Angeles remains on appeal.


S.C. Reverses Death Sentence for Jail Inmate’s Killing

Says Defendant Should Have Been Allowed to Defend Himself

By Kenneth Ofgang -

Monday, December 11, 2009

A man convicted of killing a fellow Los Angeles County Jail inmate is entitled to a new trial because the judge wrongfully prevented him from representing himself, the California Supreme Court ruled yesterday.

Raymond Oscar Butler was denied his Sixth Amendment right to counsel, under the self-representation standard set forth in Faretta v. California (1975) 422 U.S. 806, Justice Carol Corrigan wrote in a 5-2 decision.

In June, the high court unanimously affirmed Butler’s conviction and death sentence in a separate case, People v. Butler (2009) 46 Cal.4th 847. The sentence in that case was for the murders of two college students from Japan during a 1994 carjacking in the parking lot of a San Pedro supermarket.

In 1995, while awaiting trial for those murders—of which he was convicted the following year—Butler was charged with the first degree murder of Tyrone Flemming.

Flemming was beaten and stabbed multiple times as he and other inmates were being moved to showers the morning of March 26. Witnesses said that Butler started the fight, then Paul Gornick began stabbing Flemming, and that Butler then took the same knife and stabbed Flemming several more times.

Butler admitted being involved in the fight, which stemmed from an ongoing feud between Gornick and Flemming over an allegedly stolen address book and supposed threats by Flemming against Gornick’s family. Butler said Gornick was planning to attack Flemming and had used a fabricated handcuff key to keep his stabbing hand free.

Butler said he only participated in the fight because he would have been seen as a coward otherwise, and that he had not stabbed anyone.

Although he was represented by counsel at his first trial, he filed a handwritten motion asserting his “unconditional constitutional right to represent himself without counsel.” The prosecutor said that Butler might be seeking pro per status in order to gain additional jail privileges, but acknowledged that he had a right to defend himself.

The judge hearing the case at the time granted the motion.

In January 1996, however, citing the Flemming stabbing and other disciplinary violations, including three incidents of possessing razor blades, the county moved to terminate Butler’s use of the law library, saying he was too dangerous to be allowed contact with other inmates and staff. The judge agreed, saying Butler could continue to defend himself through access to legal forms and supplies, a legal runner, and advisory counsel.

In October 1996, subsequent to his conviction in the first case, Butler appeared before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge J.D. Smith, who was newly assigned to the Flemming murder case. The judge expressed doubt that Butler could continue to defend himself, saying it was “pretty obvious with this type of situation that pro per status is probably going to be revoked,” but put the matter over for about six weeks.

At the next hearing, after the prosecutor recounted all of the incidents involving Butler at the jail, including a recent one in which a knife was found in his rectum, revoked his pro per status and appointed his advisory/standby counsel to represent him in the balance of the proceeding.

Butler subsequently sought, in written papers and at court hearings, to regain his right of self-representation, and in September 1997, the judge agreed. But a month later, at a hearing at which Butler complained he had not received all of his discovery material, Smith again revoked his pro per status.

The defendant’s standby lawyer explained that while Butler had received all of the discovery relating to the stabbing, which was a major part of the penalty phase in the previous trial, jail personnel had insisted that the rest of the material was too voluminous to be given to Butler at one time.

Smith responded that this illustrated why the defendant could not represent himself:

“It is not unique to your client. This is the pro per problem. You have a pro per that is in for another case; and the jail is a jail, it is not a law library. They restrict what you can do there. That is why it just doesn’t make sense to do that. In any event, I will just put you back on the case. You have had some time to work on at least the guilt phase. You can take a look at that and if we need to . . . we will take a short delay to look at the penalty phase. We will not be starting that right away.”

Jury selection began a week later. Butler was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death.

Corrigan, however, said the court was compelled by Faretta and its progency to reverse.

While pro per status may be denied or terminated due to “serious and obstructionist misconduct,” failure to make a timely and unequivocal request for self-representation, acquiescence in appointment of counsel, or severe mental illness, Corrigan noted, the trial judge based his order solely on the restrictive conditions of the defendant’s confinement.

“Restrictions on pro. per. privileges in custody are not unusual,” the justice wrote. “They have never been deemed a justification for depriving inmates of the right to represent themselves.”

Corrigan further noted that the restrictions did not preclude Butler from representing himself, given that he had advisory counsel and access to legal documents and discovery materials.

 “It is established that the effectiveness of a self-represented defendant’s preparation is ordinarily irrelevant,” Corrigan wrote.

“Defendants untrained in the law may well provide themselves with inept representation,” the justice added. “But Faretta gives them the right to make a thoroughly disadvantageous decision to act as their own counsel, so long as they are fully advised and cognizant of the risks and consequences of their choice.”

Chief Justice Ronald M. George and Justices Joyce L. Kennard, Kathryn M. Werdegar and Carlos Moreno concurred.

Justice Ming Chin, joined by Justice Marvin Baxter, dissented. Chin argued that the trial judge acted properly “under the extreme circumstances the case presents.”

He emphasized that the restrictive conditions of Butler’s confinement were the result of the defendant’s own actions, as proven during the penalty phase of the first trial.

He cited Indiana v. Edwards (2008) 128 S.Ct. 2379, in which the court held that a defendant who was severely mentally ill, but competent to stand trial, could be denied the right to represent himself.

Chin acknowledged that the case was not directly on point, but seized on the high court’s statement that “self-representation at trial will not ‘affirm the dignity’ of a defendant who lacks the mental capacity to conduct his defense without the assistance of counsel.”

The dissenting jurist argued that the court “should be similarly unconcerned with affirming the dignity of a defendant who is already under a sentence of death, and who is personally responsible for the actions that made him such a security risk that he could not effectively defend himself.”

Corrigan, who said in a footnote that counsel for both sides had agreed that Edwards was irrelevant to Butler’s situation, wrote that while the U.S. Supreme Court might be “well advised” to reconsider its precedent, “this court is not empowered to narrow the established scope of a federal constitutional right.”

The case was argued by Deputy State Public Defender Jessica K. McGuire for the defendant and Deputy Attorney General Jason C. Tran for the state.

The case is People v. Butler, 09 S.O.S. 7001.


Raymond Oscar Butler gives his family a smile April 19, 1996, after hearing death-penalty verdict in Long Beach Superior Court.



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