The California Supreme Court overturned the death sentence of a former Kern County Sheriff's Office deputy who was convicted of murdering two women in the 1980s.
David Keith Rogers, 72, was convicted of first-degree and second-degree murder in the deaths of Tracie Clark and Janine Benintende, respectively, and was sentenced to death in 1988. But because a prosecution witness falsely testified multiple times, and her testimony was used during the sentencing phase of the trial, Rogers' death sentence was overturned July 15. Tambri Butler initially testified that Rogers sexually assaulted her while she was engaged in sex work but later expressed doubt about her identification of Rogers.
Since his conviction, Rogers has spent the intervening years on death row at San Quentin State Prison.
In 1999, Butler said her identification of Rogers more than 10 years prior was wrong.
"I am now more concerned than ever that I wrongly identified David Rogers as the man who attacked me," Butler said in a Supreme Court declaration.
Years later, Butler was also proved wrong in the court of law. During an evidentiary hearing in 2011, Butler claimed she was sexually molested by Rogers multiple times while she was in jail, but her testimony was proved false by two witnesses who were working at the jail during that time, according to the court's opinion. Butler's descriptions of her assailant and the car he was driving were inconsistent with the evidence, and she followed a "pattern of belatedly raising new details" about her assaults, the court wrote.
It was determined by the court that Butler was unreliable and lacked credibility. The allegations against Rogers were inconsistent and inaccurate, and her story changed multiple times.
The two murder convictions were upheld by the court. Rogers will serve life in prison without the possibility of parole so long as the Kern County District Attorney's Office doesn't opt to retry the sentencing phase of the trial.
Benintende, 20, was murdered in 1986, and Clark, 15, was murdered in 1987. Both women were found in the Arvin-Edison Canal, riddled with bullets from a .38-caliber gun. The bullets recovered from the bodies, tire tracks and shoe prints at the scene of the Clark murder, and eyewitness accounts connected Rogers to the murders of both women. The ammunition found in both bodies was the same type as KCSO's department-issued ammunition that was available to all deputies, according to the court's opinion, written by Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye.
Rogers was arrested a few days after Clark was murdered and he confessed to her murder, but denied being involved in Benintende's death. Rogers claimed the gun went off accidentally after he attempted to threaten Clark into performing sex acts on him in exchange for $30.
According to the court's opinion, Rogers' employment with the Sheriff's Office was terminated in 1983 after a sex worker complained about his conduct, but he was ultimately reinstated as a deputy.
During his trial, defense attorneys argued that he was mentally disturbed because of sexual and physical abuse he suffered as a child. Mental health professionals testified at the trial that Rogers killed Clark while he was in an "impulsive, highly emotional state," according to the court's opinion.