Three things you need to know about 20 Years on Death Row

20 Years on Death Row is an exclusive series that tells the story of Keith Doolin. A long-distance truck driver, with no previous convictions, Doolin has now spent over 20 years on death row for the killing of two women in 1995. He has always maintained his innocence – here are three essential facts you need to know about the case.

Three things you need to know about 20 Years on Death Row

San Quentin State Prison in California

1. It's a race against time to save Doolin's life

Whilst California is a generally a liberal state, Californians are actually very supportive of the death penalty. In 2016, San Quentin State Prison, north of San Francisco, housed America's largest death row with nearly 750 inmates, but no executions had actually taken place in ten years prior due to legal challenges. On 8 November 2016, Californians voted for Proposition 66, designed to speed up the death penalty process. This means that cases such as Doolin's are now in a race against time.

Keith Doolin with his mother Donna Doolin Larsen

Keith Doolin with his mother Donna Doolin Larsen

2. Doolin had a dodgy defence lawyer

When Doolin was tried for murder in 1996, it became increasing clear that Rudy Petilla, his court-appointed attorney, was not providing the most rigorous defence. It later transpired that he had a serious gambling addiction and had pocketed over £50,000 that he had promised to spend on investigators and experts. Petilla eventually resigned from the State Bar of California Bar in 2004 after allegations of misconduct in another case.

3. Doolin's mother went to law school to save her son

When Doolin was convicted of murder and sentenced to death, his mum, Donna Larsen, made him a promise that she would never give up the fight. True to her word, she left her job to study in law school for two years, becoming a paralegal and opening her own business. Now part of the legal system herself, Donna had access to research and expertise and all the things she needed to help speed up Doolin's appeals and try and prove his innocence. Now 75 years old, Donna has been relentlessly crusading for her son for 22 years.