Killer spends more years on death row than off

Posted at 11:27 AM, Mar 05, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-05 17:11:02-05

Arizona’s most notorious death row inmates past and present have incredible stories. 

In this Death Row diary we look at the controversy over this particular execution.  Was justice served by this man’s execution? You decide.

PHOTOS: Arizona's youngest inmates currently on death row



Date of Birth: October 24, 1955

Executed: January 21, 1998

On Sunday, June 30, 1974, Ceja, who was 19-years-old, went to the home of Randy and Linda Leon in Phoenix to steal a large shipment of marijuana. He struggled with Linda and shot her twice in the chest with a .22 caliber pistol.  

Ceja used a pillow to muffle the 4 additional shots

Ceja dragged her body from the living room to the bedroom, where he used a pillow to muffle 4 additional shots he put into her head at close range. 

When Randy arrived home, Ceja’s gun was empty, so he took Randy’s gun from a den drawer. Ceja shot him four times with his own gun, hitting him in the chest, back shoulder and arm. A police investigator said in Ceja’s preliminary hearing that Ceja also kicked Randy in the head as he laid dead or dying.

Ceja then loaded up a suitcase he brought with him with 70 pounds of marijuana. He removed the receiver from the phone and turned on the television to create the appearance that someone was home.

He attended the funeral of the victims

In a strange twist, Ceja attended the funeral of his victims, helped move furniture and even offered to help police find the murderer.



Calls to spare Ceja’s life:

The judge that twice sentenced him to death, Mel McDonald, later tried to save Ceja's life. McDonald wrote in an affidavit that "the justification underlying my imposition of the death sentence on Ceja will not be met by executing Ceja now. Executing Ceja after he has spent 23 years on death row does not provide adequate retribution or deterrence to allow the death penalty to stand."

Ceja spent 23 years and one month on death row, which at the time, was the longest time anyone had been on death row.

Ceja spent 23 years and one month on death row, which at the time, was the longest anyone had been there

He spent more than half his life on death row, earning his GED and several college course credits. He was also employed as a porter and a law clerk in the prison law library.

Ceja's attorney, Charles Van Cott, argued that he already served the equivalent of a life sentence while waiting to be executed, stating "it is cruel and unusual to sentence someone to both a life sentence and a death sentence."


Calls for Ceja’s Execution:

Deputy County Attorney Juan Martinez countered the argument about Ceja’s longevity on death row, saying his 23 years behind bars was about the same age of the victims that he gunned down.

"Are we to pin a medal on him? Is that so great, the fact he's served 23 years? And that through the mere passage of time he's deserving of something?" said Martinez.

"If he had to do it again, he would"

During a clemency hearing, his wife Kristie Ceja, testified that Ceja told her he planned the robbery and shooting saying, “He had no remorse for anything he’s done and if he had to do it again, he would.” 

Martinez produced copies of letters written to Kristie by Ceja where he threatened to kill her as “punishment.” In one letter, written in June of 1996, Ceja said, “I should mention to you that if you put up any resistance while I am imposing punishment on you, you will only make it worse on yourself!"


Jose Jesus Ceja Execution:

10 family members including his mother were allowed to visit him that day.

About 30 people witnessed the execution, including state and prison officials. However, at Ceja's request, no family members were on hand to watch the execution.


Jose Jesus Ceja’s last meal:

2 Red chili beef burritos

2 Cans Coke Classic

1 Slice cherry pie


Jose Jesus Ceja’s last words:

When asked if he had any final words, Ceja stated, "No, that's all right."