Man pleads guilty to murder in cellmate’s death at Delano prison

Crime Watch

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — A man has pleaded guilty to murder for fatally beating his cellmate, convicted of multiple sex crimes against children, in a Delano prison.

Steven Law, 48, pleaded guilty Thursday to first-degree murder and assault likely to result in great bodily injury by a life inmate. He’ll be sentenced to life without parole next month.

The latter charge was filed because Law was already serving a life term in prison at the time he killed 50-year-old Noah Rutherford III.

Following the guilty pleas, Assistant Public Defender Peter Kang, Law’s attorney, said Law killed his cellmate because he believed Rutherford “targeted children sexually in the worst ways imaginable.”

He said Law accepted the consequences of his actions.

“While not excusing his crime, the impulse to strike out violently at someone who destroys a young child’s life and represents every parent’s worst nightmare is understandable,” Kang said.

“His plea to life without parole is a living death, a grotesque sentence that deprives him of hope,” Kang said. “But for Mr. Law, it was important to take full responsibility for his actions.”

District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer said inmates housed in state prison have a right to protection and to live without fear of assault.

“The Kern County District Attorney’s Office takes these crimes very seriously and will continue to fight vigorously for all victims of crime,” she said in a news release.

On Nov. 29, 2019, prison guards at Kern Valley State Prison noticed blood spatter inside Law’s cell. They entered and found Rutherford unresponsive on the floor and covered with blood.

Law told the guards he beat Rutherford and had intended to kill him, according to prosecutors. Rutherford remained hospitalized for weeks before dying Feb. 2, 2020.

When the attack happened, Law was serving life with the possibility of parole from Tulare County for second-degree robbery, a second-strike offense, according to corrections officials.

Rutherford was serving a 30-year term from Los Angeles County following convictions on 18 counts of lewd or lascivious acts with a minor under 14 with force, violence or fear, officials said.

Law’s sentencing hearing is scheduled July 15.

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