A twenty-year resident of San Quentin's death row has been using his time in limbo to create art. He's had some success. A showing of his work is being hosted by San Francisco's Braunstein/Quay Gallery. In an article published by the San Francisco Chronicle on May 28, 2008, gallery owner Ruth Braunstein said, “Someone told me this was the most unbelievable use of black-and-white they'd seen in years.”
William Noguera's monochromatic oeuvre is eye-catching and has pushed into the background the crime that put him on death row. Noguera is a murderer, having been convicted of the 1983 slaying of his girlfriend's mother. His girlfriend Dominique Navarro was also convicted in her mother's murder, the jury accepting the prosecution's argument that she and Noguera had a financial stake in her mother's death.
However, Noguera's art agent, Cassandra Richardson, sees a crime of passion, as she explained to the Chronicle's Jesse Hamlin:
He'd been sent up by a jury that believed he killed for financial gain because Dominique Navarro stood to inherit some insurance money and the home of her mother, who'd been brutally beaten and choked. The more she learned about it, Richardson said, she came to agree with Noguera's appellate lawyer, Robert R. Bryan, that Noguera deserved a new trial.The religion excuse. William Noguera is so pro-life that he was provoked into a homicidal act. Anyway, he never had a “good relationship” with his victim, so perhaps his crime isn't that surprising.
“What I'm comfortable saying is that he was in love with this girl and he never had a good relationship with her mother,” Richardson said. “The girlfriend got pregnant and the mother basically forced her to get an abortion. William is a devout Catholic. He walked in and lost it and killed her.”
Feel better now?
I have never supported capital punishment. Except for the one true argument in its favor (recidivism is zero among executed felons), the death penalty is destructive of time, resources, and respect for the process of law. Even with the expensive and time-consuming safeguards required before the death penalty's imposition (except, apparently, in Texas), we still keep finding innocent people on death row. A life sentence without possibility of parole is in every way a more efficient and less draconian penalty—and has the advantage of not being irrevocable. In Noguera's case, still under appeal, who can deny that his presence on death row adds a certain cachet to his art? Perhaps people would be less interested in buying his art work if he were merely a lifer.
Noguera says he rues the crime for which he was convicted: “I have regret, remorse, and I'm terribly sorry for what happened.” Perhaps he feels he can get some consideration for acting out his devout religious convictions. The sob story appears to have worked on his agent. Will it work in a new trial? Or will a new jury find the religion excuse as noisome as I do?
In A Stone for Edmund Dantes, which appears to be a self-portrait, Noguera evokes the plight of the Count of Monte Cristo, a man condemned to languish behind the rough-hewn blocks of a bleak prison. In Noguera's version, the stones of the Chateau d'If become clean, precise rectangles with stippled patterns. There's another difference, too, but one that the artist might prefer to ignore: Dantes was an innocent man condemned to prison by the machinations of a jealous rival. Whatever he may be in his own mind, Noguera is not the Count of Monte Cristo.