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The rest of the Carmen story

For The Madera Tribune

After he died, Carmen was brought back to North Fork once more, and now he lies in the same cemetery that holds his first victim, Wilbur McSwain.


By Sept. 12, 1958, Rayna Tom Carmen, a Mono Indian, had been waiting eight years for the door to San Quentin’s gas chamber to open for him. He had first been put on death row in June 1950 for the murder of another North Fork Indian, Wilbur McSwain. When that conviction was overturned, Carmen was brought back to Madera County for another trial. In 1951, he was once more convicted and returned to death row.

The mandatory appeal was made and once again denied, but something was different this time. Assistant United States Attorney Robert Peckham had turned up in court claiming that the U. S. Federal Courts could possibly have exclusive jurisdiction over Carmen because he was an Indian.

The appeals court shrugged its shoulders at Peckham’s suggestion, saying that the fact that Carmen was an Indian didn’t count. This was all defense attorney Mason Bailey needed. He let loose with a barrage of petitions that kept Carmen out of the gas chamber and the courts busy for several years. Petition followed petition and reprieve followed reprieve until a meeting of the California State Supreme Court in August of 1957.



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