California bill lets death row inmate help authorities find victims

California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill to allow a death-row inmate to help authorities search for the remains of his long-dead victims, the governor's office announced Tuesday.

The governor signed AB2357 by Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, D-Tracy, which gives California's corrections secretary the authority to let convicted serial killer Wesley Shermantine help investigators search for more bodies.

Shermantine and a friend were known as the "Speed Freak Killers" for their drug-induced killing spree in the 1980s and 1990s. The other man, Loren Herzog, hanged himself earlier this year after learning that Shermantine provided crude maps to lead authorities to the remains of four of their victims.

Shermantine is currently awaiting execution in San Quentin prison for four murders.

The tightly drafted bill makes it clear that Corrections Secretary Matthew Cate has the authority to release Shermantine from death row to help find evidence and victims' remains under heavy guard. The bill withdraws that authority on Jan. 1.

Lawmakers say there could be dozens of other victims, perhaps as many as 72.

Galgiani became interested in the case in part because her cousin disappeared 31 years ago and could be a victim of the killers. Dena McHan was 19 when she went missing.

Earlier this year, authorities found parts of four bodies, two of which were identified as teenage girls who disappeared more than 25 years ago. Authorities identified Cyndi Vanderheiden, 25, who disappeared in 1998, and Chevelle "Chevy" Wheeler, 16, who disappeared in 1985, when they searched a remote Calaveras County property once owned by Shermantine's family.

Shermantine was arrested in 1999 after his car was repossessed and investigators found Vanderheiden's blood in the trunk. He was convicted of both murders in 2001. He also was convicted of robbing and killing two drifters near Stockton.

Herzog's three murder convictions and 78 years-to-life prison sentence were overturned by an appeals court, which ruled his confession was illegally coerced. He later pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in Vanderheiden's death and was paroled in 2010.

Shermantine blames Herzog for the killing spree, while Herzog maintained Shermantine was responsible for the deaths.

The Senate and Assembly unanimously approved the bill earlier this month.