Christopher Lightsey
64 years old
Admitted to Death Row in 1995

Christopher Lightsey is one of the more well-known condemned Kern inmates but not because of the crime for which he was convicted. It is the uncharged crime in which he is a suspect gained him the most notoriety.

Lightsey was convicted of the 1993 murder and robbery of a 76-year-old cancer patient, William Compton. After Compton missed a doctor’s appointment, police discovered him dead in his home. He’d been stabbed 42 times.

Compton was an avid firearm collector with a wide collection of rifles and handguns. His stolen guns led detectives to solving the case.

In 1995 Lightsey went through numerous defense attorneys and continually fought to represent himself in his criminal trial, which was prosecuted by Lisa Green, now Kern County District Attorney. Lightsey had frequent outbursts in the courtroom, causing a judge to order him to be gagged with duct tape during his sentencing.

Lightsey is also well known for being the only suspect named by Bakersfield Police in the 1990 abduction and murder of 4-year-old Jessica Martinez. Lightsey lived in the same apartment complex as Jessica when she went missing from her front yard.

His friends told police Lightsey was gone for several hours on the day the child disappeared, and returned to his apartment with a “fidgety demeanor.”

Lightsey is also a registered sex offender who served time for molesting young girls.

In 2008, detectives got a swab of Lightsey’s DNA to compare to DNA found on Jessica’s clothing. It didn’t match.

In an exclusive interview with 17 News in 2012, Lightsey denied any involvement in Jessica Martinez’s murder.

He said he didn’t kill William Compton either. 

Vincent Brothers
55 years old
Admitted to Death Row in 2007

The case of Vincent Brothers is arguably the most infamous crime to ever take place in Kern County. Brothers was convicted of murdering his mother-in-law, his wife, and their three young children.

To say the crime was shocking is an understatement. Joanie Harper, 39, was found on her bed, shot and stabbed, with her three children lying beside her. Marques, 4, was shot in the head; Lyndsey, 2, and 6-week-old Marshall were shot in the back. Brothers’ mother-in-law, Earnestine Harper, 70, was in the hallway of the Southeast Bakersfield home, shot twice in the face.

Brothers was the vice principal of Fremont Elementary School and was well respected in the community as a longtime local educator.

Brothers was convicted of five murders and sentenced to death in 2007.

Charles Rountree
46 years old
Admitted to Death Row in 1995

In December 1993, 19-year-old Diana Contreras was Christmas Shopping at Valley Plaza Mall. She’d planned to buy her mother a special necklace, but she never got a chance to give it to her.

At some point, Diana was approached by 23-year-old Mary Elizabeth Stroder and 23-year-old Charles Rountree. The young couple kidnapped Diana and drove her to a remote location near Taft, where Rountree shot her to death. The couple was arrested in Kansas a few days later, driving the victim’s car. The day of her murder and in the days following, numerous withdrawals were made from Diana’s bank accounts. Two days after the murder, using Diana’s money, Rountree and Stroder got married in Las Vegas. They were wearing their wedding rings when they were arrested four days later.

Rountree admitted his involvement in the murder and said he and his girlfriend targeted Diana because she was petite, and didn’t seem like she’d be much trouble to rob. Rountree made Diana withdraw money from multiple ATMs before killing her.
Rountree struggled to explain why he decided to shoot her to death. Rountree also told detectives that his girlfriend, Mary Stroder, played no role in the decision to kill Diana.

Rountree was convicted of murder, kidnapping, and robbery in 1995 and sentenced to death. Stroder was convicted of the same charges and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. However, in July 2017, Governor Jerry Brown commuted her sentence and Stroder was granted parole in January 2018. The governor’s office said Stroder was in many ways a victim herself, as a result of several abusive relationships. 

David Rogers
71 years old
Admitted to Death Row in 1988

In the late 1980’s, detectives were searching for the killer of two young prostitutes. The investigation led them to one of their own, sheriff’s deputy David Rogers.

It was January 1986, when 20-year-old Janine Benintende left her Los Angeles home and traveled to Union Avenue in Bakersfield, where she worked as a prostitute. Janine was last seen in a white fur coat around 8 pm. About a month later, her decomposed body was found floating in an Arvin canal. She’d been shot to death.

About a year later, investigators made a similar discovery. In February 1987, 15-year-old Tracie Clark was working Union Avenue when she was seen getting in a pick-up truck that drove out of town. The next day, her body was found floating in the same Arvin canal Janine Benintende had been found a year earlier. Both young women were shot with the same weapon. Bullets, tire tracks, shoe prints, and eyewitness testimony all built the case against Rogers.

When confronted by his fellow KCSO detectives, Rogers admitted to killing 15-year-old Tracie Clark, but denied involvement in Janine Benintende’s death. Rogers’ defense centered around claims that he was mentally disturbed due to physical and sexual abuse as a child.

Rodney Berryman
52 years old
Admitted to Death Row in 1988

It was September 1987 in the small rural town of Delano. Rodney Berryman, 21, was unemployed and estranged from his wife, who lived with their young son in Los Angeles County. Berryman came to Delano to stay with his girlfriend, who lived with her parents. It was at this time that his girlfriend’s teenage cousin was found murdered. Florence “Mimi” Heldreth, 17, was a senior at Delano High School when she was brutally murdered.

She was found stabbed to death on an isolated dirt road. Tire tracks and shoeprints were among the evidence that linked the crime to Berryman, who was an acquaintance of the victim. In 1988, Berryman was convicted of the murder and the special circumstance of rape. 

Francisco Alvarez
50 years old
Admitted to Death Row in 2000

In 1994 he shook his girlfriend’s 5-month-old baby to death. Two years later he beat a 4 year old to death. Sentenced in 2000.

Paul Bolin
70 years old
Admitted to Death Row in 1991

The year was 1989. Paul Bolin was living in a cabin on a secluded piece of land with his business partner in Walker Basin, a rural part of Kern County. The pair were growing marijuana together. On Labor Day Weekend, the business partner brought two friends to see their marijuana plants. According to witnesses, this upset Bolin, who shot his partner, and the two men who were strangers to him. His partner and one of the men died. Bolin was convicted of both murders and sentenced to death in 1991. His appeal has been denied.

Steven Catlin
73 years old
Admitted to Death Row in 1986

It was a baffling case for doctors. In 1976, Joyce Catlin had been in the hospital for about three weeks after complaining of what appeared to be flu-like symptoms. Various doctors and medical treatments couldn’t help her. She died 19 days after she was admitted. After her death, some doctors suspected poisoning by paraquat, a highly toxic poison used to control weeds. In the end, several medical experts agreed the poison is indeed what caused her death.

Joyce was Caitlin’s fourth wife, and Catlin’s third wife later said she immediately suspected his involvement.

Eight years after the death of his wife, Caitlin’s 79-year-old mother, Maratha Catlin, also died after battling an unknown illness. Catlin’s third wife had voiced her concerns that Martha was being poisoned before she died. An autopsy confirmed her suspicions. Martha, like Catlin’s fourth wife, died from paraquat poisoning. Investigators believe Catlin killed both women for the same reason: money. Catlin was the sole benefactor of his mother’s will. After Catlin was arrested in 1984 for his mother’s death, detectives found a bottle of paraquat in his garage.

But before a Kern County jury heard any of this, a Monterey jury convicted Catlin of another murder.

The victim was Catlin’s 5th wife, Glenna Kay Catlin. Like her mother-in law, Glenna also died in 1984. Like his fourth wife, Glenna spent a few weeks in the hospital before passing away. Toxicology reports showed she too died from paraquat poisoning. The jury found Catlin guilty.

After his Monterey trial, Catlin was tried for the murders of his 4th wife and his mother. Catlin was convicted and sent to Death Row in 1990.

Travis Frazier
36 years old
Admitted to Death Row in 2013

In 2009, Travis Fraizer was already serving a life sentence for the 2004 murder of a convenience store clerk when he stabbed another inmate to death at a Tehachapi prison. The victim, 20-year-old Evan Broderick, was serving a 3-year sentence for grand theft. Frazier was sentenced to death in 2013.

Robert Fuller
64 years old
Admitted to Death Row in 2015

Prosecutors called it one of the horrendous murder cases they’d seen. In 2009 Robert Fuller showed up to the home of his estranged wife, 45-year-old Annette Sowders, where he shot her and her mother as their children watched in horror.

Fuller was convicted of both murders as well as violating a restraining order his wife had against him.

Willie Harris
49 years old
Admitted to Death Row in 1999

Prosecutors say in May 1997, Willie Harris raped and murdered CSUB college senior, Alicia Manning.

Manning shared a Bakersfield apartment with another young woman, who became friends with Harris. Harris pursued a romantic relationship with the victim’s roommate, but she declined his advances and the pair stayed friends. Shortly before her murder, Alicia Manning told her roommate that Harris was calling the apartment often, interrupting her studying.

Francisco Beltran, Jr.
32 years old
Admitted to Death Row in 2014

Francisco Beltran was convicted of murdering a man in 2010, with the special circumstances of the crime being gang-related.

Beltran had actually shot the victim a year earlier, severely wounding him in a gang-related robbery.

John Lee Holt
50 years old
Admitted to Death Row in 1990

It was summer of 1989. A then 21-year-old John Holt had been working as a door to door salesman for cleaning products for about a month when he showed up at 65-year-old Marie Axtell’s door. When Axtell declined his products, Holt forced entry into her home where he raped and strangled her and stole her jewelry.

While at her home, Holt opened a car of root beer, which he left in her bedroom. His fingerprints were found on the can.

Richard Montiel
69 years old
Admitted to Death Row in 1979

Montiel was convicted of stabbing a 78-year-old Bakersfield man to death during a robbery of the man’s home. Montiel was accused of several other alarming robberies in Bakersfield.

Kenneth Nowlin
38 years old
Admitted to Death Row in 2013

Kenneth Nowlin was convicted of stabbing a fellow inmate in 2009 at a Tehachapi prison. The victim, 20-year-old Evan Broderick, was serving a 3-year sentence for grand theft. Nowlin was sentenced to death in 2013.

Juan Ramirez
42 years old
Admitted to Death Row in 2001

Chad Yarbrough was an Arvin High football star when he was kidnapped and murdered in 1997. Investigators say Juan Ramirez murdered Yarbrough by shooting him execution style.

Teddy Sanchez
54 years old
Admitted to Death Row in 1988

In February 1987, the bodies of Juan and Juanita Bocanegra were discovered in their Bakersfield home. The married couple had been brutally stabbed.

The next day, a 72-year-old wheelchair bound man was found murdered in his hotel room at the Bakersfield Inn. The coroner’s office said the man died from massive blunt force injury to the chest. He’d also sustained several stab wounds.

While waiting to stand trial, Sanchez was interviewed by then Bakersfield Californian reporter Michael Trihey. Sanchez told Trihey in a jailhouse interview that he murdered his three victims for their Social Security checks. Sanchez was convicted of the three murders and sentenced to death in 1988.

Ronald Lee Sanders
65 years old
Admitted to Death Row in 1982

Ronald Lee Sanders was convicted of the murder of a young woman who’d recently moved to Bakersfield to be closer to family. Sanders bludgeoned her to death and nearly killed her boyfriend during a narcotics robbery. He was sentenced to death in 1982.

Francis Ward Weaver
74 years old
Admitted to Death Row in 1985

In February 1981, a young couple was driving to Las Vegas when their car broke down just outside of Tehachapi. Weaver, a long-haul trucker, offered to drive the couple to Mojave. He beat the man to death and took off with the man’s girlfriend. Weaver raped her multiple times over a series of days before murdering her. 
He buried the woman in the back yard of his Northern California home.

Weaver maintained he didn’t intend to kill the couple, and only killed the young woman after she bit his finger. Weaver’s ex-wife testified that Weaver hated being bitten because as a child, his mother would bite him until he bled as a method of discipline. Prosecutors said Weaver is likely responsible for other killings.

Weaver’s son, Ward Weaver III, who was there when police dug up the body of Weaver’s victim, went on to murder two teenage girls who he also buried in his backyard.

Joseph Danks
55 years old
Admitted to Death Row in 1993

About a month after he was admitted to a Tehachapi prison in 1990, Los Angeles County serial killer, Joseph Danks, murdered his cellmate.

Danks told prison guards he used his bed sheet to murder his 67-year-old cellmate after the man went to sleep. Danks already was serving a sentence of 156 years in prison for the murders of six homeless men in Los Angeles. Danks hunted transient men in Koreatown in the late 80s and was known as “the Koreatown Slasher.”

Vicente Figueroa Benavides
68 years old
Admitted to Death Row in 1993

In November of 1991, Vicente Benavides, then 42, was convicted of raping and murdering of his girlfriend’s 21-month old child.

Delano Police called it the most brutal case of child abuse in the city’s history. The case sparked outrage, especially after the coroner’s office said the girl died from sodomy that caused her severe internal damage. Benavides was a farm laborer from Mexico with no criminal record.

Michael Charles Brown
42 years old
Admitted to Death Row in 2016

In 2008, Bakersfield Police were looking for a serial rapist, targeting prostitutes working Union Avenue. They arrested Michael Charles Brown after he was positively identified by four victims. But as prosecutors built their case against him, they got some big news. After Brown’s DNA was entered into the CODIS database, they got a match.

Brown’s DNA matched that of the killer’s in the brutal stabbing and rape of Ruby Merriweather in 2000. Brown was 25 when he killed the 39-year-old single mother. Investigators still don’t know how Brown and Merriweather knew each other. Brown has never admitted to killing Merriweather or raping several prostitutes. Brown is also a suspect in several unsolved murders, and was the focus of a year-long 17 News investigation.

Larry Hazlett
70 years old
Admitted to Death Row in 2004

In October of 1978, 20-year-old Rosamond beauty queen, Tana Wooley, was strangled to death in her apartment. The case went cold for years, until police finally got a match to semen found on the victim’s bedspread.

The DNA was linked to Larry Hazlett, who lived in Tana Wooley’s apartment building and was initially questioned by police. Investigators said Hazlett was also a serial rapist. He was sentenced to death in 2004.

Robert Cowan
69 years old
Admitted to Death Row in 1996

Robert Cowan was convicted of murdering an elderly Bakersfield couple in 1984.

He shot the man and strangled his wife and ransacked their home for valuables. Cowan wasn’t caught until 10 years later when criminalists re-examined fingerprints found at the scene. Cowan also was charged with slashing the throat of an elderly Shafter man in 1984, but the jury couldn’t make a unanimous decision on that count. Cowan was convicted of murdering the elderly couple during the commission of a robbery, and was sent to Death Row in 1996.

Richard McWhorter
69 years old
Admitted to Death Row in 1998

In 1995, Richard McWhorter was living in an Oildale apartment with his wife, Billie.

Shirley Jordan and her 10-year-old son lived in the apartment next door and Jordan lent Richard money. A few days after the McWhorters moved out of the apartment house, Jordan and her son were discovered dead inside their apartment. Both bodies were in an advance stage of decomposition, making it difficult to determine the cause of death, but blood was everywhere.

Among the evidence collected was a disposable camera. The last photo taken on the camera was of Richard McWhorter sitting in Shirley Jordan’s living room. A signed loan from Shirley to McWhorter was also at the crime scene.

As the evidence against him began to grow, McWhorter eventually confessed to the crime. He told detectives he went to Shirley’s apartment and asked her for more money. He said he became desperate and “lost it” and, in the argument that followed, he stabbed the mother and son. He also told police he sat in the apartment and “watched” the bodies for a long time after they died.

Erran West
46 years old
Admitted to Death Row in 2014

West was convicted of the 2010 Labor Day murders of a Bakersfield couple. West admitted to selling drugs to the pair in the past.

Bob Russel Williams
41 years old
Admitted to Death Row in 1996

In 1994, Bob Williams told police he went into a Bakersfield home and took a woman’s wallet. The next day, he returned to the home and told the woman he’d found her credit cards. He pushed his way into her home, tied her up, raped and strangled her. He also ransacked her home for valuables. Williams described his crimes in vivid detail to former Bakersfield Police Detective Kevin Legg. Williams was sentenced to death in 1996.