SAN QUENTIN (CBS SF) — Condemned Fresno killer Johnny Avila Jr. has become the 10th inmate on San Quentin’s Death Row to die of complications from COVID-19 since the current outbreak of the virus began last month.
State prison officials said Avila, 62, die Sunday morning at an outside hospital from what appears to be complications related to COVID-19. An exact cause of death will be determined by the coroner.
Avila was sentenced to death in Fresno County on March 21, 1996 for two counts of first-degree murder. A jury found him guilty of the special circumstances slaying of two young women, Dorothy Medina and Arlene Sanchez.
During the late night and early morning hours of July 31 and August 1, 1991, the two young women attended a gathering in rural Fresno, where Medina was brutally gang-raped. She and Sanchez were then driven to a canal bank and killed.
Richard Avila, Johnny Avila’s cousin, and Jeffrey Spradlin were also found guilty in the murders and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Nine other condemned San Quentin inmates have died of confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infections, as have nine other inmates from the general population. The 19 deaths are the most COVID-related deaths in the state prison system. Nineteen inmates have also died at the California Institution for Men in Chino.
According to the CDCR’s coronavirus tracker, there were 537 inmates at San Quentin with active infections as of Sunday. Another 48 infected inmates have been released and 1,551 inmates have recovered from being infected with the virus.
On July 10, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that some 8,000 prisoners would be released to try to contain the COVID-19 outbreak at state prisons. The governor’s plan applies to low-level offenders with 180 days or less remaining in their sentences and those who are at risk of COVID-19-related complications.
In March of 2019, Newsom signed an executive order placing a moratorium on executions in California, and ordered the closure of the execution chamber as San Quentin.
There are currently 716 people on California’s death row, the CDCR said.