SANTA CRUZ — The U.S. Attorney’s Office will not seek the death penalty in a federal capital murder case involving a Ben Lomond man, according to legal documents filed Monday.
Suspected cop killer Steven Carrillo, 33, faces capital murder charges in two separate 2020 cases that took place a week apart. In the federal case, Carrillo and co-defendant Robert Justus, of Millbrae, allegedly conspired to shoot and kill contracted Federal Protective Services Officer Dave Patrick Underwood on May 29, 2020 in Oakland. A week later, Carrillo was arrested and charged with capital state crimes related to the alleged shooting death in an ambush of the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller and the injury of two additional agents on June 6, 2020 in Ben Lomond.
In both cases, prosecutors refused to rule out the possibility of seeking a potential death sentence until this week. Carrillo’s indictments are considered capital murder cases because they involve the killing of law enforcement officers.
Although the U.S. Attorney’s Office filing formalized the office’s intention not to seek the death penalty in the federal case, a similar decision remained an open question in the Santa Cruz County murder case.
After court hearings in 2020 and 2021, Santa Cruz County District Attorney Jeff Rosell told the assembled press that “we are considering all options” and everything remains “on the table.” Rosell could not be reached for comment on the federal filing Monday.
Although capital punishment remains technically legal in California, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a moratorium in March 2019 on executions of the state’s existing death row inmates. Newsom has since signaled a plan to make permanent a pilot program, launched in 2020, that began the dispersal of death row inmates to other maximum-security facilities, according to The Associated Press.
Carrillo last appeared in a Santa Cruz County Superior Court hearing in June, when he waived his right to a preliminary hearing. To date, no schedule for jury trials has been established. A date-scheduling hearing in the case, however, is scheduled for April 4.
In the Oakland federal case, Carrillo’s co-defendant, Robert Justus of Millbrae, faces parallel court proceedings. U.S. Attorney Stephanie Hinds, likewise, will not seek the death penalty for Justus, according to her office filing.