Convicted killer transferred to San Quentin


By Bay City News Service

The 26-year-old man who was sentenced to death Monday for the fatal shooting of East Palo Alto police Officer Richard May in 2006 was transferred to San Quentin State Prison on Tuesday, a prison spokesman said.

Alberto Alvarez will become the 699th death row inmate at San Quentin, condemned to spend the rest of his life in a 4-foot by 9-foot cell, prison spokesman Lt. Sam Robinson said.

His death sentence was handed down Monday by San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Craig Parsons. Alvarez was convicted in November of first-degree murder with the special circumstance of killing a peace officer for shooting May after a foot chase that stemmed from a disturbance at an East Palo Alto taqueria on Jan. 7, 2006.

Alvarez was arrested the following day and was taken to the Maguire Correctional Facility in Redwood City where he remained without bail throughout his trial.

Once transferred from the jail, Alvarez will be placed in San Quentin's Grade B housing unit, which holds more than 100 of the most violent condemned inmates, as well as the new arrivals.

"Grade B inmates (are considered) the worst of the condemned inmate population," Robinson said.

"We house new inmates there because we don't know what we've got," Robinson said. "We don't know what a guy's attitude is going to be as a newly arrived death row inmate."

After 30 days in Grade B, also called the "adjustment center" when used for new inmates, the prison staff decides whether the inmate will remain in Grade B or be moved to Grade A, where the general population condemned inmates are housed.

"They're guys who follow the rules and get along with other individuals," Robinson said.

The lifestyles of Grade A and Grade B inmates differ dramatically, he said. For instance, those housed in Grade A get five hours of outdoor time per day, whereas Grade B inmates only get 10 hours per week.

When moving through the prison, Grade A inmates are handcuffed and escorted by one officer. Grade B inmates are also handcuffed, but are accompanied by two officers.

Grade A inmates get phone privileges, Grade B inmates do not.

"A Grade B condemned inmate's movement is severely restricted," Robinson said. "Their privileges are restricted. It's not the best place to be if you are an inmate."

Food is the same for both classes of inmates, though. Both get three meals a day -- two hot meals and a paper bag lunch. They all have the same size cells and same items inside; a bed, a desk, a toilet and a sink, as well as a shelf with dividers where the inmates can keep their personal property in six cubic feet of space.

"When (Alvarez) is here at San Quentin, he won't be living in a lap of luxury," Robinson said. "A 4-by-9 cell isn't a whole lot of space," he said, adding that the cell is smaller than some closets.

Alvarez's case will be automatically appealed to the state Supreme Court, as are all death row cases in California.

No one has been executed at the prison since 2006, and only 13 inmates total have been executed there since 1978 when California reinstated the death penalty, Robinson said.

San Quentin is the only prison in California that houses male condemned inmates, and the only prison in the state where inmates sentenced to death are executed, Robinson said.

Notorious inmates on death row at San Quentin include Richard Ramirez, who resides in Grade B, and Scott Peterson and Richard Allen Davis, who are in Grade A.

■ Alvarez sentenced to death.

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