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Death penalty request delayed until after election
October 25, 2012, 05:00 AM By Michelle Durand Daily Journal Staff

The San Mateo County district attorney’s request that a judge set an execution date for a man convicted in the torture murder of a young graduate student 27 years ago was delayed yesterday until after the Nov. 6 election in which California voters will decide if the death penalty will stand.

Judge Craig Parson was scheduled Friday to hear prosecutors and Robert Green Fairbank’s state-appointed defender argue whether a date should be set now even though executions have essentially been on hold for years while the courts wrangle with the question of cruel and unusual punishment.

A court has ruled the state’s previous use of a three-drug cocktail could not continue and a judge in a different case also declined to set an execution date for a Death Row inmate despite that prosecutor maintaining a single drug would bypass the concern.

A similar argument was anticipated by prosecutor Joe Cannon on behalf of the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office. On Tuesday, however, the defense asked to push back the hearing and Cannon did not oppose the request.

The hearing was reset for Nov. 16 at which time the question may be moot.

California voters are faced with Proposition 34 which would prohibit the death penalty and commute the sentences of all California’s current Death Row inmates to life without the possibility of parole. San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe is a very public opponent of the measure, and in fact a co-chair of the coalition fighting the change, but said that stance has no connection to his office’s push for a Fairbank’s execution date.

"It seems logical that people would think that but it’s not true. It’s just time to keep this case moving and follow through on the jury’s verdict,” Wagstaffe said.

Fairbank, now 58, was sentenced to death for the Dec. 12, 1985 attempted sexual assault and murder of San Francisco resident Wendy Cheek, a graduate student. Cheek’s partially burned body was found near Hillsborough off Highway 280. Cheek had been stabbed repeatedly with a barbecue fork, knife and screwdriver before being set on fire. Two days into his 1989 trial, Fairbank, already a convicted felon, pleaded no contest.

Wagstaffe said Fairbank’s legal options to stave off the imposed punishment have run out. Regardless of whether his office prevailed in the request for a date, Wagstaffe said he is obligated to keep the case on track because his case no longer merits further appeal.

The last San Mateo County resident sentenced to death was Alberto Alvarez for the 2006 murder of East Palo Alto police Officer Richard May.

The last San Mateo County inmate executed was Donald Beardslee in January 2005 for the 1981 double murder of Patty Geddling and Stacey Benjamin

Michelle Durand can be reached by email: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.

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