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Condemned Inmate Billy Ray Hamilton Dies of Natural Causes

Inmate Billy Ray Hamilton, 58, sentenced to death in 1981 for three counts of first-degree murder with special circumstances, died of natural causes at 3:18 p.m. on Monday, October 22, 2007 at a Kern County hospital.

He and crime partner Connie Sue Barbo murdered Douglas Scott White, Bryon William Schletewitz, and Josephine Linda Rocha on September 4, 1980 at Fran’s Market in Fresno. Hamilton shot the three at close range with a shotgun. Hamilton also attempted to kill two others, one a store employee, and the other a nearby resident who had heard the gunshots and responded.

In October 1980, Hamilton was arrested as a suspect in a Modesto robbery and assault with a deadly weapon. Investigators then learned Hamilton had committed the murders at Fran’s Market on behalf of Clarence Ray Allen.

The two had been incarcerated at Folsom State Prison. Hamilton was serving a four-year sentence for robbery. Allen had been arrested, convicted of burglary, first-degree murder and conspiracy, and sent to prison with a life sentence in 1978 for the 1974 burglary of Fran’s Market and for planning to kill an accomplice. While in prison, Allen plotted to kill the people who had informed on him and gotten him prison time. Three days after Hamilton was paroled, he was picked up by Allen’s son at the bus station and obtained weapons to carry out the crimes.

The investigation led to the arrest of inmate Allen. He was convicted in Glenn County of three counts of first-degree murder with special circumstances and was received onto California’s death row at San Quentin State Prison on December 2, 1982. He was executed by lethal injection on January 17, 2006.

On October 16, 1981, Hamilton was sentenced to death in Contra Costa County and was received onto California’s death row at San Quentin on October 19, 1981.

Barbo was received on February 26, 1982 from Monterey County after she was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for three counts of first-degree murder and assault with a deadly weapon. She is currently incarcerated at California Institution for Women.

Since 1978 when capital punishment was reinstated in California, 72 condemned inmates have died. Thirteen were executed in California, one was executed in Missouri, 39 died of natural causes, 14 committed suicide, and five died of other causes.