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In re Butler

California Court of Appeals, Second District, Eighth Division

December 4, 2014

In re ROBERT G. BUTLER, on Habeas Corpus.

ORIGINAL PROCEEDING. Petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Super. Ct. No. BH009082 William C. Ryan, Judge.

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Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General, Jennifer A. Neill, Assistant Attorney General, Sara J. Roman and Kathleen R. Walton, Deputy Attorneys General, for Petitioner the People.

Michael Satris, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Respondent Robert G. Butler.



The Warden of Folsom State Prison appeals from the trial court order granting inmate Robert G. Butler’s habeas corpus petition to overturn the Governor’s denial of Butler’s release after the Board of Prison Terms’ decision to parole Butler after 27 years in state prison for a double homicide. We agree with the Warden that the Governor did not improperly rely on new evidence from outside the administrative record and that some evidence supports the Governor’s decision. We therefore reverse the judgment granting Butler’s habeas corpus petition. The effect of our decision is to reinstate the Governor’s decision denying release.


A. The Crimes

In December 1985 Robert G. Butler shot and killed Robert Jones, 47, and Ronald McClendon, 17, inside Jones’s house. Each had been shot twice at close range while sleeping. Jones was shot while in his bed and McClendon was shot while on a living room sofa.

Butler was 22 at the time and a nationally ranked track and field star attending Azusa Pacific College. Jones was his former high school teacher. Butler had been living with his uncle while in high school but Jones took

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Butler in after a dispute arose because the uncle was unhappy with Butler’s decision to become a cadet with the Arcadia police department. Butler had lived with Jones for three years. Butler’s mother abandoned him when he was very young and he was raised by an alcoholic and emotionally distant father. Butler viewed Jones as a surrogate father figure and maintained a room in Jones’s house even after he left for college. Butler had no criminal record and by all accounts was considered a bright and promising young man headed toward a career in law enforcement.

Unbeknownst to Butler, Jones was gay and, according to Butler, had made several sexual advances over the years, although Butler did not recognize them as such until he learned about Jones’s sexual orientation shortly before killing him. Butler said he also learned about a week before the crime that ten years earlier Jones molested Butler’s older brother, who was 13 at the time. Butler claimed he learned this from William Alton, who once lived with Jones and was also McClendon’s cousin.

After learning that Jones had molested his brother some years earlier, Butler went to confront him and demand an apology. Butler was also upset because he believed Jones had grown distant and aloof with him. Butler used his house key to enter and went to Jones’s bedroom. Jones refused to apologize and told Butler, “I don’t owe you shit. Get the fuck out.” Butler left the bedroom and retrieved a handgun that he knew Jones kept hidden in the house. Butler returned to Jones’s bedroom and shot him twice as he slept.

As Butler walked into the living room on his way out of the house, he claims he heard a rustling or shifting type noise coming from the sofa, and fired twice at close range. What he heard was McClendon pulling the covers over his head. Butler fled, leaving behind his scarf. He also left behind his set of keys in the bedroom he still maintained at Jones’s house.

Butler pleaded guilty to two counts of first degree murder and in July 1986 began serving two concurrent terms of 27 years to life.

B. Prison Performance Record

Butler earned a bachelor’s degree in Social Science and a Master’s Degree in Community Health Administration while in prison. He also became a licensed x-ray technician and completed vocational training in both drafting and office services. He worked in the prison’s print plant, held a variety of clerk’s jobs, and worked in a prison program to help inmates with developmental disabilities. His prison work record was considered exemplary.

Butler also completed numerous therapy and self-help programs to help him understand what drove him to kill. He also became a Buddhist to help

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him achieve peace and understanding. The only black mark on Butler’s prison record was a 1999 incident involving mutual combat.

C. Parole Board History

The Board of Prison Terms (by 2009 called the Board of Parole Hearings; the Board) denied Butler parole in 2002, 2005, and 2009. At the 2009 hearing he testified that he killed Jones as a way of acting out years of suppressed anger at his abandonment by his mother and the emotional distance of his father, triggered by his perception that surrogate father figure Jones was also abandoning him. He did not see McClendon but shot out of fear and reflex, although he took responsibility for his actions, expressed remorse, and recognized the damage he had inflicted. Butler was considered to be at low risk of violence or recidivism.

The Board denied parole in 2009 because it found Butler’s explanation for killing Jones inexplicable as a reaction to the slight directed at Butler. The Board also disbelieved Butler’s version of events concerning the McClendon slaying. First, the evidence showed he would have walked past the living room where McClendon slept at least twice before shooting him, making it unlikely Butler was unaware of his presence. Second, Alton told the police that McClendon had complained to him that Butler was returning to Jones’s house with his things. Alton told McClendon to sleep on the sofa because Butler was jealous of other people using his room. Alton never mentioned to the police that he had inadvertently supplied a motive for murder by telling Butler that Jones had molested his brother. All told, these factors led the Board to conclude that despite Butler’s tremendous progress he still lacked insight into what really happened and his true motivations for the crimes.

At his 2012 parole hearing Butler repeated his earlier explanations for the crimes: that he acted out of years of suppressed anger due to his parental abandonment, fueled by what he viewed as abandonment by Jones. According to Butler, Jones had recently admitted he was gay at about the same time Butler was entering his first serious relationship with a girl. Butler then began to see his relationship with Jones in a new, disturbing light, followed soon after by the revelation that Jones had molested Butler’s older ...

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