As end to death row nears in California, we meet condemned inmates held in extreme conditions

There hasn’t been an execution at San Quentin since 2006 – and as things stand, there’ll be no more. With the death row’s closure imminent, Sky News is given a rare look inside.

On death row, there’s the man you meet and the man you Google. 

When I walked into East Block, San Quentin, there was a genial wave from inside the condemned cell of David Carpenter. His internet history has him as the serial rapist and murderer known as “The Trailside Killer”.

Raynard Cummings was on good form, mimicking my Scottish accent as he stood the height of the cell door that separated us.

“I don’t think lions and tigers should be locked up like this,” he told me, reverting to Californian drawl. Search his name and you find it’s a view formed in the 40 years since he was convicted of fatally shooting an LA police officer.

The common courtesy of death row prisoners conceals the depravity and danger that brought them here.

They all have a story, everyone as dark as the next.

Robert Galvan – robber, kidnapper and murderer – leaned into the grated metal of a holding cage to tell me his.

“I killed my cellie [cellmate],” he said. “Actually, I wanted to come here [death row]. They gave me life for kidnap and robbery… and that made me feel bad.”

“The only way for me to get back into the court system was to do something like that, to get here you know?” Galvan said. “Now I’ve got a good lawyer, now I’ve got an appeal.”

The 48-year-old has tattoos covering his head and inked around busy eyes that dare you to question the logic. He’d committed cold-blooded murder with the aim of a death row conviction, for the want of a good lawyer. Savagery as a strategy.

His story isn’t the only one to shock on America’s largest condemned wing – in East Block, San Quentin, there’s a disturbing personal history in every cell.

Michael Lamb, 55, a former white supremacist convicted of murder in 2008, told me: “I killed a gang member that went on Fox Undercover. I shot him in the back of the head, I executed him in an alley.”

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