A federal appeals court upheld the death sentence of John Sully, a former police officer convicted in an infamous case of the torture-murder of six people in his pursuit of prostitutes and cocaine in 1983.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Sully’s claims his original trial lawyer had been ineffective by pursuing an innocence defense rather than an insanity defense and failing to present mitigating evidence of his mental disorders at sentencing.
The panel described the state’s evidence in seeking the death penalty as “staggering” in upholding a ruling by U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco.
Sully spent eight years as a police officer in the small town of Millbrae, south of San Francisco. He left to start an electrical contracting business, but also started an “escort service” that regularly hired prostitutes.
During one six-month period, while he was addicted to freebasing cocaine, Sully tortured, raped and killed several prostitutes through hanging, hacking with a hatchet, stabbing or shooting. One victim, Brenda Oakden, a 19-year-old, he sought as a “new” prostitute who had not yet had sex for money. He shot her in the head and her body found in San Francisco’s Golden GatePark, stuffed in a barrel.
Another victim, Kathryn Barrett, a drug dealer who offered to sell Sully cocaine, was stabbed in the chest by a Sully colleague at Sully’s warehouse during their attempt to steal the cocaine. One Sully learned Barrett had not died of the knife wounds, he killed her with a sledgehammer to the face.
At the trial, prosecutors presented overwhelming physical evidence that Sully was the killer of the six victims, according to the court.
His fingerprints and palm prints were found on the barrels containing three of the corpses and on plastic bags used to wrap one of them.
He footprint was found on another trash bag near one of the body’s and rope used to tie a victim matched rope found at his warehouse.
Three women who survived being imprisoned, bound, beaten and raped by Sully at his warehouse said the experiences closely resembled those of Sully’s murder victims, the court said.
Sully’s defense lawyer pursued a factual innocence defense, portraying Sully as a former police officer and successful businessman who, though he became submerged in a world of drugs and prostitution, did not kill anyone.
Sully testified on his own behalf, denying the crimes. Jurors deliberated for just four hours before convicting him of multiple murder.
The opinion by Judge Sidney Thomas was joined by Judges Marsha Berzon and N. Randy Smith.
Case: Sully v. Ayers, No. 08-99011