Apr 27, 2012 12:52 PM
TUCSON - A man who spent nearly 30 years in prison for three brutal murders won't be executed, even though he says that's what he wants.
Instead, the Arizona Supreme Court recently ruled James Wallace is to serve the rest of his life behind bars without the possibility of parole - a huge blow to the family of the victims.
On February 1, 1984, Wallace murdered his former girlfriend, Susan Insalaco, and her two children: 12-year-old Gabriel and 16-year-old Anna.
Insalaco had kicked him out of the house the day before, after coming home drunk. He returned and waited for each member of the family to come home, and then beat them to death.
The following day, he turned himself into police, and confessed.
From the beginning, all James Wallace ever wanted was to die for the three murders he committed, according to transcripts from his confession. In one interview, the detective asks him: "What do you want to happen to you?"
"I want to die," Wallace responds.
"Is there anything else that you would like to add at all?"
"I killed them, I'm guilty."
John Davis was the prosecutor who handled the case. He also became a Superior Court Judge and is now retired.
"[Wallace] said he was surprised how hard it was to kill somebody," Judge Davis says.
He vividly recalls how Wallace killed 16-year-old Anna by beating her with a baseball bat.
"The baseball bat broke, he had clubbed her so many times, he took the splintered handle from the baseball bat and jammed it through her throat," Judge Davis recalls.
Twelve-year-old Gabriel was next. Wallace used a pipe wrench and hit him about 10 times, crushing his skull. Susan was the last to die. He used the same pipe wrench to kill her.
While Wallace has been on death row, he's told other inmates he wanted to die. In a telephone interview, Frank Atwood says, "He's always insisted that he should have been put to death for that crime - that he just really doesn't deserve to live after what he did. He's told me and others that he really wanted to be executed."
However, the Arizona Supreme Court has the final say.
Stanley Feldman is a retired justice. He spent 20 years on the bench and signed 20 to 30 death warrants. He says the law is clear: when Wallace murdered the family the applicable factor was called "cruel, heinous and depraved conduct."
"And that was defined by case law as so-called ‘gratuitous violence' - the defendant used more violence that was needed to kill the victim," Feldman says.
In their decision, the justices wrote: "Multiple rapid attacks on a victim, although reprehensible, do not necessarily establish gratuitous violence."
Judge Feldman adds, "Nothing is going to bring them back and the court is required to follow the law, and not its emotions."
That decision isn't setting well with the victim's family. In a statement, they say: "Our family is devastated by the Arizona Supreme Court's latest opinion in this case. Susan, Anna and Gabriel were murdered in ‘an especially heinous or depraved manner through the use of gratuitous violence.' How this court disagrees and reduced Wallace's death sentences to consecutive life terms, leaves our family to feel that justice has not prevailed. If this is not a death eligible case, then what is?"
However, Judge Davis believes that "having to live out his life with what he did is a far crueler punishment than if he had received death as he wanted."
The laws have changed. Had James Wallace committed the crimes today, he would've been executed.