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Death Penalty Upheld in Murder of Livermore Nurse

Court upholds death sentence of ex-Marine convicted of 1986 murder.

Bay City News Service

The California Supreme Court in San Francisco on Monday unanimously upheld the death sentence of an ex-Marine convicted of fatally stabbing a Livermore nurse in her home 26 years ago.

Richard Tully, 53, was sentenced to death in Alameda County Superior Court in 1992 after being convicted of the 1986 murder and assault with intent to commit rape of Shirley Olsson, 59.

The jury also found a special circumstance of murder committed during a burglary, which allowed the imposition of the death penalty.

Olsson, a nurse at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Livermore, was killed during the night of July 24, 1986.

A co-worker found her nude body in her Livermore home the next morning. Olsson had been stabbed 23 times. Her purse, containing no money, and the knife used in the murder were found in a golf course next to her house.

At the time, Tully was a 27-year-old unemployed heavy equipment operator who had previously served in the Marines. He had recently been staying at his mother's boyfriend's house two doors down from Olsson's, and continued to use that address as his mailing address.

Tully was arrested in March 1987 after a Livermore police officer who stopped him on suspicion of driving with a suspended license and possessing methamphetamine noticed that his license showed an address two houses away from Olsson's.

A fingerprint check then showed a fingerprint and palm print of Tully's on the knife.

In an interview with police, Tully admitted he had entered Olsson's house while being drunk and tried to have sex with her, but alleged the killer was another man nicknamed "Doubting Thomas."

The state high court rejected a series of appeal claims by Tully, including an argument that there was insufficient evidence that he burglarized the house with the intent to commit rape or theft.

Justice Marvin Baxter wrote, "The jury could easily have discarded defendant's implausible invention of Doubting Thomas's role in the crime and concluded that defendant himself went to Olsson's residence and broke in to steal drugs or property."

The court also turned down Tully's claim that the prosecutor in his trial, during closing arguments to the jury, improperly read Old Testament quotations that appear to support a death penalty.

The prosecutor put four of the quotations on a chart entitled "The Bible Sanctions Capital Punishment."

Tully's then-defense attorneys did not object to the quotations, but during their own closing arguments responded by reading other Old and New Testament passages that take an opposite position and stating that Buddhism does not condone the death penalty.

The court said the prosecutor's references were allowable because defense attorneys had failed to object and because the prosecutor had told jurors that secular law is paramount over religious doctrine.

"To the extent the prosecutor's argument merely admonished that a juror's religious beliefs need not stand in the way of imposing death, the argument was permissible," Baxter wrote.

In a precedent set in another case in 2006, the high court said prosecutors may not argue that biblical authority requires a death penalty, but may contend that choosing a death penalty under secular law does not contradict biblical doctrine. James Thomson, a lawyer for Tully in the appeal, said he could not comment on the decision because he plans to ask the court for a rehearing, in a filing due by Aug. 14. He said that if the court declines that request, he will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Thomson said he has also filed a separate habeas corpus petition with the state Supreme Court, claiming that Tully's conviction should be set aside because of alleged misconduct by prosecutors and alleged incompetence of defense attorneys at the trial.

david July 31, 2012 at 12:29 PM
I always find it odd that a convicted killer tries so hard to keep himself alive for decades after brutally taking another's life. California needs to reduce the prison population and I can give them 720+ reasons on how to do it. Note to reader: over 720 prisoners sit convicted on death row in San Quentin.
Scanner guy July 31, 2012 at 08:32 PM
the death penalty in calif. is a joke, either enforce it or get rid of it. you have people on death row that have been there for 20 yrs. texas wouldn't have 720 losers waiting for the "big day"
Cherry July 31, 2012 at 09:05 PM
Agreed. As well the extra costs to house them & the extra costs of endless appeals. I say it should be tossed.
Speedie B July 31, 2012 at 10:37 PM
Don't toss it, enforce it in a timely manner. Texas doesn't mess around anymore and their death penalty crimes dropped significantly. The lack of enforcement is the same as tossing it because criminals know they will likely not be put to death. Legislature will be making a case soon for tossing it because it costs too much -- THAT IS BECAUSE IT IS NOT ENFORCED!! Californians reinstated the Death Penalty but the liberals and the ACLU drag it out in order to run up the costs and then advocate to toss it to save taxpayer money. We would save even more if the convictions were carried out rather than letting them sit on death row. If justice was swift, there would be less violent crime warranting the death penalty and lower costs running it. The victims' families are victimized twice, once with the tragic loss of their loved one and again because of the lame judiciary system who is not enforcing the will of the people in a timely manner.
Cherry July 31, 2012 at 10:57 PM
There have been a significant number of death row inmates exonerated by DNA testing. Otherwise I may agree with you. Lack of enforcement is not the same as tossing. Lack of enforcement is much more expensive.
Mark Tarte August 01, 2012 at 12:44 AM
Cherry, those exonerated were in other states. To my recollection, no one on Calif death row has been cleared through DNA analysis or other means. I am a reluctant supporter of the death penalty. Those that wish to abolish it completely fail to realize that it is constitutional (5th amendment). If we do abolish it and someone sentenced to life in prison kills while in prison, how do we punish them? ( This recently happened in a Calif state prison.) As far as this case goes, I worked the periphery of this investigation and saw his work. If any person deserves the death penalty, it is Tully.
Scott Trudeau August 01, 2012 at 03:17 AM
As someone who spent hours interviewing Tully, I concur with Mark T. Had he not committed this murder, there would have been others.
John Harrington August 01, 2012 at 03:46 AM
So, if we get away with the death penalty does that mean we will have clowns like Charles Manson around clamoring to get out of prison.
John Harrington August 01, 2012 at 03:46 AM
So, if we get away with the death penalty does that mean we will have clowns like Charles Manson around clamoring to get out of prison.
Ryan Sherman August 01, 2012 at 06:49 AM
Who cares if a murderer in prison kills another inmate? So long as they are locked up and gone forever I have no problems with that.
Ryan Sherman August 01, 2012 at 06:58 AM
Mark, do you seriously believe that every single DR inmate at SQ is 100% guilty beyond any doubt? Or, better yet, they had incompetent counsel? Just because CA has not had an exoneration doesn't account for the reality that we have as a country executed people that were innocent. Then again, we executed many Iraqi's, including women and children, so what does it all matter in the long run. As for this scumbag, his life is miserable as it should be.
Ryan Sherman August 02, 2012 at 04:57 AM
California has had 3 DR exonerations for innocence. Nationwide the total is 130 since 1973. Do you cops think it's just collateral damage if we executed those 130 so long as we execute everyone else? http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/documents/FactSheet.pdf
Wendy Grant August 08, 2012 at 08:12 AM
Hey, the law isn't perfect. My dad was murdered and the guy walked. Everyone knew he did it, but the main witness was threatened, and they called off the trial. I don't think there are to many people on death row that are innocent. I wish The guy that murdered my dad was in there.
Caycee Dianne January 21, 2013 at 11:43 PM
Tully is a high tempered SOB...he goes off at the least thing. I'm not so sure there were not other murders he committed. He preaches the Bible and wants people to believe he's a Christian....I don't believe anything he says. I think he killed Ms. Olsson and it didn't phase him at all....until he was caught.

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