Crime

Dennis Webb, convicted in 1988 of murdering Atascadero couple, dies on death row

In a July 1988 photo, Dennis Webb points to a tattoo that marks his first murder. He claimed to have murdered five people before being convicted of the murder of John and Lori Rainwater of Atascadero. During the penalty phase of his trial, he took the stand and asked for the death penalty.
In a July 1988 photo, Dennis Webb points to a tattoo that marks his first murder. He claimed to have murdered five people before being convicted of the murder of John and Lori Rainwater of Atascadero. During the penalty phase of his trial, he took the stand and asked for the death penalty. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

One of California’s few death row inmates to have committed their crime in San Luis Obispo County has died in custody near San Quentin State Prison.

Dennis Duane Webb died at 6:14 p.m. Tuesday at a hospital near the maximum-security prison. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said the cause of death is unknown pending the results of an autopsy. He was 65.

Webb had been on death row since August 1988, when he was sentenced to death by a San Luis Obispo County jury for the Feb. 5, 1987, burglary and first-degree murders of John Rainwater, 25, and Lori Rainwater, 22, of Atascadero. Their newborn and toddler were found alive at the murder scene.

Webb reportedly laughed when his guilty verdict was read.

On Wednesday, county District Attorney Dan Dow called Webb’s crimes “horrific and evil.”

“Our hearts and prayers” remain with the Rainwaters’ children and families, Dow said in a statement.

Webb broke into a 14-unit lodge at 8750 El Camino Real that the couple, who were devout Christians, managed, according to Tribune archives. Prosecutors argued that Webb initially intended to rob the couple but instead repeatedly raped and beat them in the lodge throughout the night.

Both victims were bludgeoned in the back of the head, possibly with a pistol, their wounds splitting their scalps to their skulls, a pathologist testified during the trial.

The couple was bound and gagged, with bonds so tight they drew blood. In the early morning, the couple broke loose from their restraints and ran out of the house, only to be gunned down by Webb in the lodge parking lot.

When authorities arrived at the lodge, they found the Rainwater children, a 15-month-old girl and a 7-day-old baby boy, hiding underneath their mother’s naked body. Neither were seriously injured, and a family member said they were too young to have suffered any psychological damage.

Police did not have any suspects for two months after the killings, until Webb’s former girlfriend turned him in.

Investigators maintained that Webb didn’t act alone, and while they thought they knew who his accomplice was, they never had enough evidence to bring a case to trial. According to archives, that suspect died while a patient at Patton State Hospital.

Before his sentence was read, people in the courtroom cried out to Webb to reveal his accomplice. Webb refused but hinted that he indeed had one when he said, “It’s bad enough that I have to ride this beef alone.”

Webb then shocked the courtroom by claiming responsibility for five other murders and asked for the death penalty.

“I’m not here because my conscience is bothering me,” he reportedly said. “I haven’t got any remorse. I don’t care.”

Since 1978, when California reinstated capital punishment, 71 condemned inmates have died from natural causes, 25 have committed suicide, 13 have been executed in California, one was executed in Missouri, one was executed in Virginia and eight others have died from other causes, according to CDCR.

There are 749 offenders on California’s death row. With Webb’s death, there are now three former San Luis Obispo County residents condemned to die: Michael Whisenhunt, Richard Benson and Rex Krebs.

Matt Fountain: 805-781-7909, @MattFountain1

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