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Jarvis Jay MASTERS





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Member of the Black Guerrilla Family prison gang
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: June 1985
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: 1962
Victim profile: Sergeant Howell Burchfield, 38 (prison guard)
Method of murder: Stabbing with a prison-made knife
Location: Marin County, California, USA
Status: Sentenced to death in 1990

Jarvis Jay Masters (b 1962, Long Beach, CA) is an African American man currently on death row at San Quentin State Prison in Marin County, California. He arrived at San Quentin in 1981 at the age of 19 charged with armed robbery and was moved to Death Row in 1990 after being convicted of a role in a prison guard's murder.

During his time in prison, Jarvis became a Buddhist and started writing about his experiences from that perspective.

Death penalty case

In 1985, Sergeant Howell Burchfield was stabbed to death at night on the second tier of a cell block. Three men were tried for Sgt Burchfield's murder. Andre Johnson was tried for stabbing him while Lawrence Woodard was tried for ordering the murder. Jarvis was accused of sharpening the piece of metal that was used in the murder. Jarvis was on the fourth tier at the time of the murder. Of the three men, only Jarvis was given the death penalty. The other two were given sentences of life without parole. Jarvis Masters has been on death row since 1990.

Current Status of Jarvis's Appeal

The California Supreme Court has read Jarvis's habeas corpus petition and decided it stated a prima facie case for granting a new trial. On February 14, 2007, they issued a very strong and unusual order to California state prosecutors to respond to Jarvis’s claims in the petition. The Order to Show Cause (OSC) requires the Attorney General to show why Jarvis is not entitled to a new trial for eight reasons. Jarvis’s lead lawyer, Joe Baxter, called the Supreme Court’s Order to Show Cause “unique and breathtaking in its scope.”

On April 11th, 2008, the California Supreme Court ordered an evidentiary hearing. Joe Baxter, Jarvis’s lead lawyer said the court's order "allows us to prove his innocence on many different fronts and allows us to prove he didn't have a fair trial."

Jarvis, his attorneys, and his supporters believe that his conviction will be overturned and that Jarvis will be exonerated.

Finding Buddhism

In the early 1990s, a member of Jarvis' legal team, Melody Ermachild Chavis, began talking to him about Buddhism and they began studying together. About a year later, she arranged for HE Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche to come to the prison to give Jarvis a Red Tara empowerment. He has been practicing ever since.


Throughout his incarceration, Jarvis has been writing essays about his time in prison and on death row. His first compilation, Finding Freedom, was published in 1997. His latest book, That Bird Stole My Wings: Autobiography of an Innocent Man, is soon to be published.

Jarvis is credited with publishing the classic recipe for pruno in his poem, "Recipe for Prison Pruno."


Finding Freedom, Jarvis Jay Masters, Padma Publishing. ISBN 1-881847-08-X



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