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2 San Quentin death row inmates die from COVID-19

Daniel Hunt, The Sacramento Bee on

Published in News & Features

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Two of California death row's most notorious inmates apparently died from COVID-19, bringing the number of inmates across the state to die after contracting the coronavirus to at least 24.

The men, convicted child killer Scott Thomas Erskine and Manuel Machado Alvarez, both died on July 3, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said in a news release.

Both men were being treated at outside hospitals after being sickened by coronavirus inside San Quentin State Prison, where the virus has run rampant for nearly two weeks. Nearly 1,400 inmates, one in three housed in the famed Marin County facility, have tested positive for the virus, and the prison accounts for more than half of all infections in the CDCR system, according to its coronavirus dashboard.

In total, 5,280 inmates have been infected with the coronavirus in the state's prisons since April, with 1,441 new cases since June 19.

Alvarez, 59, was convicted more than 30 years ago for a May 1987 spree over four days in which he raped a 38-year-old woman, fatally stabbed a 35-year-old Sacramento Police Department identification technician while trying to rob him and injured a 78-year-old while stealing her car. According to CDCR officials, Alvarez fled the state and was arrested 12 days later in Mississippi. He's been on death row since Sept. 20, 1989.

Alvarez, a native of Cuba who was 28 at the time, didn't bat an eye as he was sentenced to death by Superior Court Judge Darrel W. Lewis for the death of Allen Ray Birkman at an ATM, according to previous Sacramento Bee reporting. In an unusual post-sentencing statement in open court, Prosecutor Patrick Marlette said he "had hoped Mr. Alvarez would have a sense of the loss he has caused. ... That apparently has not happened."


Birkman, who worked his last seven years for the Sacramento Police Department, "never faulted another person," his father said. "Allen never saw the dark side of another person," according to Bee reporting at the time.

At the time of the crimes, Alvarez, who was 26, had been out on parole for after serving time for killing one man and stabbing another through the throat during a knife attack in Los Angeles County on Dec. 27, 1981. During his incarceration at trial, Alvarez also attacked two inmates at the Sacramento County Main Jail.

A compromise verdict was returned by the jury against Alvarez's co-defendant, Belinda Denise Ross, who admitted driving the getaway car following the stabbing of Birkman. Ross was found guilty of the attempted robbery of Birkman, but the jury rejected a murder finding against her, instead convicting her as an accessory after the fact.

Erskine, 57, was convicted for the 1993 murders of Charlie Keever, 13, and Johnathon Sellers, 9, who disappeared after leaving home to ride their bikes to the Otay River banks in San Diego, CDCR said. The children were found two days later bound and gagged. Prosecutors said at the time there were signs of violent sexual assault and torture,


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