BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — After spending three decades on death row, former deputy David Keith Rogers appeared in Kern County Superior Court on Wednesday for a hearing during which a stretcher was called to the courtroom.
Rogers, who appeared frail, had leaned forward and asked his attorney to request a break. It was during the break — in which the public was outside — that medical personnel pushing a stretcher entered the courtroom.
They left minutes later, and when court resumed Rogers was seated at the defense table. The reason for the medical call was not addressed in court.
Rogers, 75, was convicted in 1988 of two counts of murder in the deaths of Janine Benintende, 20, and Tracie Clark, 15. Benintende was killed in early 1986 and Clark a year later. Both worked as prostitutes, which is how Rogers met them, and both were shot multiple times.
Rogers was sentenced to death, but in 2019 the California Supreme Court overturned his death penalty after determining a prosecution witness falsely testified he had sexually assaulted her. The prosecution used the woman’s testimony during its closing argument in the penalty phase.
The murder convictions stand. Rogers has admitted killing Clark and originally denied killing anyone else but later said he couldn’t remember, according to court filings.
Prosecutors Cynthia Zimmer — the county’s top law enforcement official — and Eric Smith will retry the penalty phase and are seeking to have Rogers resentenced to death. The only other option is life without parole.
Rogers is represented by Chief Assistant Public Defender Tanya Rogers.
The penalty phase retrial is expected to begin in January.
On Wednesday, Judge John W. Lua ruled on a couple dozen pretrial motions. Among his decisions were to allow Zoom testimony from the mother of one of the victims, who lives in Rhode Island, as well as several other witnesses, to allow the jury to hear that Clark was 2 1/2 months pregnant and to take the jury to the scenes of the murders.
The victims’ bodies were found in the Arvin-Edison Canal, in areas Smith said are “substantively the same” from the when the killings occurred.
At trial, Rogers’ defense counsel argued he was mentally disturbed as a result of physical and sexual abuse he suffered as a child. A psychologist testified Rogers “fit the profile of a survivor of child sexual abuse and an adult victim of trauma” and had multiple personalities, according to court filings.
During the penalty phase of the 1992 trial, Rogers’ wife, Joyce Rogers, stepdaughter, brother and seven law enforcement officers testified to Rogers’ qualities as a loving relative and a “skilled and conscientious” deputy able to defuse tense situation, the filings say.
A hearing is set for Monday where attorneys will go over the list of witnesses expected to be called to testify.