California Death Penalty News

Started by Jeff1857, April 10, 2008, 02:16:30 AM

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April 10, 2008, 02:16:30 AM Last Edit: May 24, 2008, 04:19:10 AM by Jeff1857
Prosecutors, crime victims and Republican lawmakers said Wednesday they are prepared to go to the ballot if the Democratic-controlled Legislature refuses to act on a package of bills to speed up California's death penalty.

At a news conference held at the Capitol, the death penalty advocates said their proposed legislation could cut nearly in half the 15 to 20 years it now takes for the state's criminal justice system to process the cases. The bills would not affect appeals in the federal system that routinely extend death penalty delays beyond two decades.

"The vast majority of Californians are in support of the death penalty, but they're frustrated because the average (delay) of 17 years is just too long, and 20, 21, 24 years is way too long," John Poyner, president of the California District Attorneys Association and the chief prosecutor in Colusa County, told reporters.

Lance Lindsey, executive director of San Francisco-based Death Penalty Focus, a group that staunchly opposes capital punishment, said the thrust of legislative package unveiled Wednesday "is moving in the contrary direction" of concerns about wrongful executions.

"The notion of speeding up the death penalty is contrary to what the best experts in the criminal justice system and the judicial system are concluding," Lindsey said. "There has to be more care, more deliberation. There is too much error in the system, and I think this is misguided to say the least."

Backers of the legislation said they do not expect their bills to make it through the Legislature. The key bills would cut down on the time it takes to appoint an attorney to represent a convicted murderer facing the death penalty and force officials to correct mistakes in the official record of a murder case within 120 days of a conviction.

They said they want to go to the ballot in either June or November of 2010.


More on this:

Death penalty bills' focus----DA group aims to eliminate delays

In a bid to reform California's death-penalty laws, 7 bills have been introduced in the state Legislature.

Most of the bills are designed to eliminate delays and set key benchmarks. One bill seeks to expand the crimes punishable by death by including the intentional killing of a child under 14 years old.

An announcement of the legislation was made at a news conference Wednesday in Sacramento by members of the California District Attorneys Association with members of the state Senate and Assembly.

"The voice of those who have been victims of these brutal crimes must never be forgotten," Riverside County District Attorney Rod Pacheco, who chairs the association's Capital Litigation Committee, said in a prepared statement.

"We speak for them and seek accountability for the criminals who have been convicted and sentenced."

Members of the group said they seek an efficient, timely and fair death penalty in California.

If the Legislature fails to act on the bills, the group will take the matter to state voters in the form of a ballot initiative, Pacheco said.

San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael A. Ramos echoed his Riverside County colleague's sentiments in a telephone interview Thursday.

"We really need to move forward on cleaning up the whole capital litigation process," he said.

The biggest impact is on victims' family members who wait years and years for justice, Ramos said.

Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978 in California, executions have been delayed an average of nearly 18 years, according to the state Department of Justice.

But recent trends indicate death-row inmates will wait more than 20 years before they are executed, Pacheco said.

Death-penalty opponents agree the system is flawed and are pushing for alternatives, such as life in prison without parole, a sentence they see as cheaper, faster and more effective.

"I think these bills are really out of touch with the direction the state is moving," said Stefanie Faucher, program director for the San Francisco-based Death Penalty Focus.

Founded in 1988, Death Penalty Focus is a nonprofit dedicated to educating the public about capital punishment.

Faucher called it premature to offer legislation when a bipartisan blue-ribbon commission addressing the death penalty is expected to announce possible reforms in June.

The bills introduced in the Legislature aim to have a qualified defense attorney appointed to an inmate within one year of sentencing, make trial attorneys responsible for court records' accuracy, and allow judges to choose a time frame for execution as opposed to a specific date.

One of the bills would give victims' families the right to raise concerns about any undue delays.


SAN FRANCISCO -- Executions in California may resume by the end of the year -- with one inmate being put to death by lethal injection each month -- as a result of today's Supreme Court ruling, a high-level state prosecutor said.

Chief Assistant Atty. Gen. Dane Gillette, who has defended the state's lethal injection procedures against a federal court challenge, said he believes it is "certainly feasible" to resume executions by the end of the year.

U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel in San Jose had ordered a temporary halt to executions in California after finding the state's lethal injection procedures were unconstitutional. A decision by Fogel on whether a new execution protocol by the state meets constitutional requirements is pending.

A hearing in the case has been set for June, but Gillette said it may be moved up as a result of today's high court ruling. The state plans to ask Fogel to lift his court order and permit executions to resume.

Even if Fogel rules quickly for the state, another legal challenge pending in a California appellate court will prevent the state from executing inmates immediately. Gillette said the state would press for a quick resolution in that case, which was unaffected by the Supreme Court decision.

Resuming executions this year "means a lot of things falling our way, but I think that is entirely possible," Gillette said.

He said there are five inmates who have exhausted their appeals and could be executed once the litigation is settled.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said the high court's ruling supports the state's case to resume executions.

"I will continue to defend the death penalty and the will of the people, and I am confident that California's lethal injection protocol will be upheld," Schwarzenegger said.

California's last execution was of Clarence Allen in January 2006. A month later, state officials -- in a dramatic 11th-hour turnaround -- called off the execution of Michael Morales, who had challenged the constitutionality of lethal injection as cruel and unusual punishment.

Fogel ruled in December 2006 that the state's procedures ran an unacceptable risk of inflicting unnecessarily painful deaths, but said they could be fixed. Five months later, corrections officials, largely behind closed doors, issued a new blueprint for executions, saying the changes would "result in the dignified end of life" for condemned inmates. Morales' lawyers said aspects of the overhaul were worse than the old procedures.

State officials last year began building a larger, better illuminated death chamber designed for lethal injection executions. Gillette said construction has been completed.

The old facility, built in 1937 as the state's gas chamber, was criticized as dimly lit and crowded, relegating executioners outside the death room and making it difficult for them to properly monitor possible problems with the intravenous drug injections.


Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Wednesday's U.S. Supreme Court decision to allow lethal injections for death row inmates affirms California's capital punishment procedure and would allow executions to resume.

They have been on hold for two years because of legal challenges in federal and state court.

"I will continue to defend the death penalty and the will of the people, and I am confident that California's lethal injection protocol will be upheld," the governor said in a statement.

The Supreme Court voted 7-2 Wednesday to reject a challenge to the execution procedure in Kentucky, which uses three drugs to sedate, paralyze and kill inmates.

California is among the roughly three dozen states that uses a similar procedure. Executions have been delayed in California because of similar arguments claiming the drugs might not always work as intended, leaving inmates to die a painful death.

California has the nation's largest death row, with 669 convicts awaiting execution, including 15 women and 654 men.

In February 2006, California corrections officials halted the execution of convicted rapist and murderer Michael Morales hours before he was to be put to death.

Attorneys for Morales had challenged the three-drug sequence California used for its lethal-injection procedure one month before his scheduled execution.

They wrote that if the drugs were not administered properly it could leave Morales "paralyzed but conscious and suffering death from ... burning veins and heart failure."

In response, U.S. District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel recommended that the state monitor the execution with two anesthesiologists. One would be in the execution chamber and another nearby to make sure Morales was unconscious before the two remaining drugs were injected.

Morales' execution was delayed for a day and ultimately canceled after the anesthesiologists refused to participate because of ethical concerns.

"There has been a de facto moratorium," said Seth Unger, a spokesman with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. "The U.S. Supreme Court's ruling opens the door for us to proceed with the Morales case in California."

The next step is a hearing in Fogel's courtroom in San Jose, scheduled for June 12. At that time, the judge could set a schedule for reviewing the state's proposed execution procedure.

In December 2006, he ruled that California's procedure was so badly designed and carried out that it was likely to cause pain and suffering.

Since then, the state has taken a number of steps to address the concerns, including building a better-lighted death chamber at San Quentin State Prison.

Corrections official submitted a new execution plan, but it was invalidated last fall by a Marin County Superior Court judge.

Attorney Brad Phillips sued the state in Marin County, home to San Quentin, on behalf of two condemned inmates. Judge Lynn O'Malley Taylor agreed with Phillips that state prison officials had failed to gather public comment and take other required steps in forming their new execution plan.

The state is appealing the Marin County ruling. In the meantime, Unger expects the lethal-injection case before the federal court in San Jose to proceed.

David Senior, one of Morales' attorneys, said he expects the federal judge to delay a decision until California state courts resolve the pending administrative challenge.

"California may ultimately choose a procedure which is completely different from the state of Kentucky's," he said.

No judge in California has scheduled an execution since the one was halted for Morales, who was sentenced in 1983 for the rape and murder two years before of 17-year-old Terri Winchell in a Lodi vineyard.

"There are four people who have basically exhausted all their appeals ... and for whom we could set dates once the Morales litigation is resolved," said Gareth Lacy, spokesman for the state Attorney General's Office.

State attorneys reviewing the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the Kentucky case preliminarily believe it also will end challenges to California's procedure, Lacy said.


May 01, 2008, 03:59:26 PM Last Edit: May 24, 2008, 04:20:53 AM by Jeff1857
38 states currently implement the death penalty.

The United States Supreme Court ruled on April 16 that the protocol used by Kentucky concerning lethal injection was constitutional. The case took a close look at the risks of having an inmate suffer during execution due to the improper mixing and administration of lethal injection drugs.

In light of the Supreme Court's ruling, many states' self-imposed stays of execution may be lifted. However, the moratorium placed on executions in California will remain in effect.

Although the Supreme Court upheld Kentucky's method of execution as constitutional, associate justice John Paul Stevens spoke out against the death penalty itself.

"The imposition of the death penalty represents the pointless and needless extinction of life with only marginal contributions to any discernible social or public purposes," he said in a public statement at the resolution of the case.

Although disappointed with the court ruling, opponents of the death penalty were pleased to hear Justice Stevens' opinion.

Natasha Minsker, the death penalty policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California, said, "[Stevens] encouraged real honest discussion of the costs and benefits of death penalty. We feel that especially in California, that discussion is long overdue."

The Supreme Court case in Kentucky draws attention to the existence of the death penalty in California and current issues with its policy.

"The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice was created to look into issues regarding the death penalty policy in California," said Gerald Uelmen, the executive director of the commission, which is charged with examining past policy failures that may have resulted in wrongful convictions.

"We're looking at what's gone wrong and making recommendations on how to fix it," Uelmen said.

According to statistics provided by the ACLU's website, 123 people across the nation have been exonerated and released from death row since 1973. Furthermore, in California more than 200 people have been wrongfully convicted of murder, rape or other serious offenses since 1989.

Some of the key objectives of the commission have been identifying instances of wrongful convictions and analyzing policy in order to prevent future mistakes.

Furthermore, many take issue with the process by which California's death penalty policy was created.

"There is ongoing litigation about the secrecy regarding execution protocol," Minsker said. "The execution protocol in California was decided upon in complete privacy."

Lance Lindsey is the executive director for Death Penalty Focus, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the abolition of capital punishment.

"The lethal injection protocol itself did not have the public scrutiny that these kinds of practices need to become law," Lindsey said, adding that the protocol is invalid because there was not enough public input.

The current California death penalty was adopted by popular initiative in 1978. "The only way to change it is by initiative or 2/3 vote of legislature," Uelmen said.

The death penalty is being challenged on a variety of fronts in California, and there are at least three current legal challenges questioning lethal injection protocol in California, according to Lindsey.

U.S. District Court judge Jeremy Fogel was concerned that the death penalty protocol led to pain and suffering for the individual, Lindsey said, referring to the Morales case over which Fogel presided. Michael Morales was convicted for the rape and murder of 17-year-old Terri Winchell and sentenced to death by lethal injection.

Fogel placed a moratorium on executions due to concern about the risk of improper mixing of the drugs used in lethal injection. The improper mixing and administering of the 3-drug cocktail used in lethal injection could cause severe pain that would constitute cruel and unusual punishment and would be a violation of the Eighth Amendment.

"He stopped executions and asked the state to examine protocol, not just about how to use the drugs, but about a number of problems he saw concerning untrained personnel and cramped facilities," Lindsey said.

Fogel has been overseeing the review of lethal injection protocol in California. The parties involved in reviewing the lethal injection policies will be presenting their reports shortly, Fogel said, and that the recent Kentucky ruling provided "important guidance for future proceedings in California."

While legal battles are being fought over policy and procedure, there are roughly 670 people on death row in California.

With executions halted, support for abolition of the death penalty is growing. Lindsey added that many say they prefer life without parole to the death penalty.

"The support for ending the death penalty is as high now as it was in the late 1950s," said politics professor Michael K. Brown, referring to the steady decrease in executions from the late '50s. By the mid-'60s, executions had virtually ceased in the United States.

Currently Californians are divided about execution, Minsker said. In order to keep the community safe, it is better to stop execution and sentence people on death row to die in prison, he said.

"In the 7 months that we've had no executions we're as safe as we've ever been," Lindsey said. Another issue that the ACLU and Death Penalty Focus address is the financial burden that the death penalty imposes on taxpayers.

"The Hidden Death Tax" is a report located on the website for the Northern California ACLU. It is a breakdown of the costs of holding and executing death row inmates.

According to the report, "At the post-conviction level, California taxpayers pay at least $117 million each year seeking execution of the people currently on death row, or $175,000 per inmate per year."

The largest single expense comes from the extra cost of housing people on death row, which is $90,000 more per year per inmate than general prison housing.

Comparatively, "executing all of the people currently on death row or waiting for them to die there will cost California an estimated $4 billion more than if all of the inmates on death row were sentenced to [life without parole]," according to the report.

"Money goes to executing prisoners, when it could go to putting more cops on the street," Lindsey said. "Being against the death penalty is being for public safety -- take funds used to kill people and invest them in security."


June 30, 2008, 05:12:08 PM Last Edit: July 02, 2008, 04:59:49 PM by Jeff1857
California's administration of the death penalty is "dysfunctional" and "close to collapse," plagued by delays of nearly twice the national average from sentencing to execution and drowning under a backlog of cases, a state commission reported today.

In its final report, the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice said the state's death row of 670 inmates -- the largest in the nation -- will continue to swell unless the state nearly doubles what it now spends on attorneys for inmates or changes sentencing laws.

In an interview, Santa Clara University law professor Gerald Uelmen, executive director of the commission, called today's report "kind of like poking a stick in a hornet's nest" and predicted it would receive wide attention.

The 22-member commission, created by the Legislature to recommend improvements in the criminal justice system, includes law enforcement and defense bar representatives and victim advocates.

Although commissioners strongly disagreed on some issues, they were unanimous in concluding that the current death penalty system was failing and in agreeing that a large amount of money was needed for significant change. The report offers alternative proposals for reform.

The commission did not advocate abolishing the death penalty but did note that California could save $100 million a year if the state replaced the punishment with sentences of life in prison without possibility of parole. Death row prisoners cost more to confine, are granted more resources for appeals, have more expensive trials and usually die in prison anyway, the commission said in its 117-page report.

The time from death sentence to execution in California is 20 to 25 years, compared with the national average of 12 years, the commission said. Thirty inmates have been on death row more than 25 years, 119 for more than 20 and 240 for more than 15.

"The system's failures create cynicism and disrespect for the rule of law . . . weaken any possible deterrent benefits of capital punishment, increase the emotional trauma experienced by murder victims' families and delay the resolution of meritorious capital appeals," the commission said.

The commission learned of "no credible evidence" that the state had executed an innocent person but said the risk remained. Fourteen people convicted of murder in California from 1989 through 2003 were later exonerated. Six death row inmates who won new trials were acquitted or had their charges dismissed for lack of evidence.

Among the panel's findings:

* After sentences of death, cases are automatically appealed to the California Supreme Court, which upholds the sentence 90% of the time, compared with an approval rate of 73.7% in 14 other death penalty states from 1992 to 2002. Since 1978, 70% of the cases upheld by the state and then appealed to federal courts have been overturned.

* A 1978 voter initiative that helped make 87% of first-degree murders subject to the death penalty dramatically increased the number of death sentences in the state. In the year before passage of the so-called Briggs Initiative, seven people were sentenced to death. By 2000, death sentences were averaging 32 a year. They have since leveled off to about 20 a year.

* California's death row inmates whose sentences or verdicts were later overturned waited an average of 16.75 years for their reprieves.

* Seventy-nine death row inmates have not obtained lawyers to handle their first appeals, which are by law automatic, and 291 inmates lack lawyers to bring constitutional challenges based on facts that the trial courts did not hear. It takes inmates an average of 12 years to obtain a state high court ruling on their first appeals.

* The California Supreme Court has such a backlog that only one appeal from a conviction after 1997 has been resolved.

* California does not meet the federal standard for paying private lawyers to handle death cases, and the state's method of paying these attorneys -- sometimes with flat-fee contracts -- violates American Bar Assn. standards.

* Since the death penalty's restoration in 1978, 38 death row inmates have died of natural causes, 14 have committed suicide, 13 have been executed and 98 have left death row because their convictions or sentences were overturned.

"Delays grow worse every year," the commission said.

The commission attributed the unusually high rate of reversals by federal courts in California death cases to the availability of more federal money for investigations, the opportunity to develop a more complete factual record in federal hearings, and "the greater independence of federal judges with lifetime appointments."

Law professor Uelmen, an expert on the state high court, said the reversals were due to "the limited amount of time that the California Supreme Court has to give these cases," adding that the high court is "just overwhelmed with these cases."

To reduce the backlog of cases, the commission said the state would have to nearly double its spending for lawyers and investigators, trim the number of offenses that qualify for the death penalty or simply sentence all death-qualified prisoners to life without possibility of parole.

"Public debate on the death penalty arouses deeply felt passions on both sides," the report said. "The time has come for a rational consideration of all alternatives based upon objective information and realistic assessments."

Most commissioners recommended that the state Constitution be amended to permit intermediate courts of appeal to decide capital cases rather than having them go straight to the California Supreme Court. The proposal would speed up death penalty appeals and lead to earlier executions.

There are now 21 circumstances that qualify a defendant for the death penalty. One of the most frequently used circumstances in California is felony murder, in which a person is killed during the course of another felony, such as a robbery. The death penalty can be given to anyone who participated in the robbery, not just the person who did the killing.

An alternative, the commission noted, would be to limit the number of crimes eligible for the death penalty. If the state chooses to reduce the number of qualifying offenses, the sentences of inmates whose crimes were not among them should be commuted to life without possibility of parole, the commission said.

"Taking this step would actually have little impact for the death row inmates involved," the commission said. "Most of them will never be executed but will die in prison."

Several commissioners presented individual reports, some rejecting any narrowing of death-qualifying offenses and others wanting all death sentences converted to life without parole.

The commission expires today. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has vetoed three bills that grew out of the commission's previous recommendations. Another bill became law. Other commission proposals could be implemented without the need for legislative action.

It will take five to six years before the full import of the commission is known, Uelmen said. Borrowing a line from a former New Jersey chief justice, Uelmen added: "The criminal justice system is not a sport for the short-winded."
They didn't need a commission to tell us that.,0,2730545.story?track=rss

Henrik - Sweden

Jeff: If California is unable to change the laws in the direction needed to really speed up the post-conviction process and substantially reduce the back-log of condemned inmates, wouldn't you giving this circumstances believe that the most honest thing to do both against the MVS:s and the tax payers is to do a larger number of commutations to give the system a "fresh start" so to speak, and stop spending tax money for - in most cases as it seems - no outcome at all?


May I answer even if I´m not Jeff?  ;)

Your scenario would be a full victory of the delay tactic of the inmates and their lawyers. I´m not shure if this is a justice you´re in favor Henrik?

These guys are sentenced and now justice had to go on. Even if it´s hard way. But stopping carrying out sentences because there are "some" problems... no that´s not the justice I want. I mean this in general and not just about the DP.


I´m not sure if there´s a hell, but I believe in executed murderers.


I saw this post earlier but it's been an unbelievably crazy day. There is no doubt that Cali's system is flawed. That doesn't mean the trial court and the death sentences they have dealt out. That part is fine. Henrik, I know that anti community would love nothing better than to turn almost 700 off of death row to try to deal a "death" blow. In reality I don't think any way that is going to happen. It's unacceptable that DR scumbags wait 8-10 yrs for an appeals lawyer.
I don't have a simple solution to that. It would be easy to say hire more appeals lawyers but in reality I don't know the criteria for hiring additional ones. I had read somewhere it might even be on this cali thread that the Cali Supremes justice had suggested to have a state court just to handle DR cases which would free up the backlog that the Supremes have there. There is also talk of splitting up the 9th circuit and setting up an additional federal appeals court. These last two sound feasible and I think they would have to put on the ballot for voters to choose at least the state court one. Another major problem is the 9th circuit court itself. That court is so liberal they send back more death sentences than they affirm. Just recently they kicked out Fernando Belmontes death sentence for the 3rd time which in the twice prior ones Ruthie and the Supremes overturned them. I guess they are thumbing their noses at the US Supremes. There is no one real solution to fixing it but it can be fixed. I don't think any way in hell will the DP will go away in California but of course sometimes I'm not very smart. I'm interested in everyone's opinions on this one. It's a big topic.  :-* :-*. As always Henrik I respect your opinions.

Also, Judge Fogel wanted the execution chamber fixed. That part has been fixed and I haven't heard anything further from him on this.
I thought that was the only thing holding Morales from getting rescheduled but I guess not.

Henrik - Sweden

Gabenga: In this particular case it seems that the offenders and their attorneys aren't the only ones to blame. As Jeff described there are couple of flaws in the system (regardless of what you think about the DP in itself) that delays the process and causes a backlog that grews bigger for each year. Now I know a little bit about how difficult it is in an organization or a system when you have created yourself a big backlog. You have to spend extra time and resources to cut it down, else it will follow you as a burden on your shoulders that never goes away. But in reality this is often more difficult than you might think. This burden is both of a practical and of a psychological nature that affects everyone involved. And since new cases continues to arrive there will be a never-ending evil circle. 

Of course it's very unsatisfying in a legal system when you have to close cases in another way that was meant. In Sweden we have had huge problems from time to time with backlogs in our handling of asylum cases that has forced us to deal out quite large "amnesties" in granting asylum to everyone who had waited for a final decision in say 2 years or more.

Attorneys do their job, even if you disagree with their opinions and tactics. And I'm not willing to blame the inmates because they want to stay alive - that's after all perhaps the strongest of all instincts we have. Anyway - neither of this will go away. So what about all the others: The people in the courts who have to work with all this cases, the MVS:s that has to wait and wait and wait? The tax payers who has to pay? I think it would be more honest if the state said: OK, we created ourselves a problem that is impossible to handle in the way we would want to do it. We won't be able to fulfill the process for all this inmates in a reasonable amount of time and at a reasonable cost. So we have decided to do a couple of commutations to give the system a better chance to work properly.

The principles for who should be commuted or not can always be discussed. As mentioned in earlier post Ca. after all has been quite extensive in dealing out death sentences and you could argue that a couple of the inmates would have received LWOP in almost any other state. There's also a possibility of speaking with the MVS:s and give them a realistic view: Either wait for at least 10 or 15 years and the outcome still be very uncertain or accept a commutation which perhaps will give some sort of sense of "closure".


The problem with your point about getting the input from the MVS and you know how much a supporter I am of them Henrik is that the judge and jury has sentenced them to death so legally speaking that part is not in the MVS hands. You can't just make a law after the fact and say "Let's see what the MVS think". So in your theory which ones do you want to commute? Do you think the Nightstalker is more "commutable" than say Richard Davis who abducted and murdered Polly Klaas or Salcido who murdered 7 family murders? I only know a handful of cases out of the approximately 670 that are on the row there. I'm not sure how you could do that even legally speaking much less trying to override the justice and sentence that has been dealt to them. Just thinking out loud here.  ;)


Hello everybody,

my name is Andreas and i come from Germany. First of al I would like to say that my opinoin about the DP is different to the most of your´s. I am not completly against it but I think that nobody should celebrate a death like some people does here. That is only my opinion and doesn´t belong in this thread.

My Question is: Does anybody here know more about Mervin R. Hughes???? I was trying to find out something about him but I didn´t found much. My girlfriend is writing him and I am not so pleased about that. Thank you for answering.

respectful submitted


hi Andreas,

I opened another topic for you, please check:


I´m not sure if there´s a hell, but I believe in executed murderers.


District attorneys meet over execution delays

The new state budget lawmakers are fighting over with the governor includes nearly $400 million to improve San Quentin's death row. That is where district attorneys from around the state met Tuesday to discuss a report which finds that endless delays in executions are making a mockery of California's justice system.

"The saying 'time heals' is nothing more than an old wives' tale," said Patricia Pendergrass, whose brother was killed in 1980. Clarence Ray Allen was given the death penalty for that murder. However, it took 26 years before he was finally executed.

"It's time for California to take the necessary steps to strengthen the death penalty," Pendergrass said.

Pendergrass was among those appearing at a briefing held by the Institute for Advancement of Criminal Justice. It released what it calls "the most comprehensive review of capital punishment in state history." The institute is the research arm of the California District Attorneys Association. "We now have over 600 individuals currently under sentence of death with their appeals either pending in state courts or pending in our federal courts," said State Court of Appeal Justice James Ardaiz.

"A never-ending appeals process is unfair to those who are seeking justice and it's a mockery of our legal system," said Colusa County District Attorney John Poyner.

The review concludes the system is broken, but that the death penalty works.

"When used correctly, the death penalty is the single greatest deterrent to murder," Poyner said. The institute also found the death penalty is seldom used in California.

"Even though 942 defendants, for instance in 2006, were convicted of murder, only 16 of them were actually sentenced to death," said Deputy State Attorney General Ward Campbell.

The ACLU monitored the news conference. The group opposes capital punishment. They agree the system is broken, but they say the solution is to give the worst offenders life without parole.

"If we were to make that change in our law, we'd save hundreds of millions of dollars. Money that we can then invest in solving all of the unsolved murders in California," said ACLU's Natasha Minsker. The district attorneys say bills that wold have addressed many of the issues they raised have failed in the Legislature. So they plan to go directly to the voters by sponsoring ballot measures in the 2010 election.

(source: KGO News)


Death penalty boosters rally at San Quentin

Law officers and families of victims who support the death penalty rallied at the gate of San Quentin State Prison Tuesday to promote a new journal that details arguments in favor of capital punishment. The anthology, produced by the Institute for the Advancement of Criminal Justice, argues that when used appropriately and sparingly for the most violent offenders, the death penalty provides a deterrent to crime.

Authors include attorneys who have prosecuted death penalty cases and family members of victims.

The crowd at the event included officials with the state attorney general's office, an appellate court justice and several district attorneys from around the state, including Marin County District Attorney Edward Berberian.

Capital murder cases are rare in Marin, Berberian noted later, and the death penalty is reserved for special circumstances.

"If I feel there are special circumstances, we will seek the death penalty," Berberian said.

He said that families of the victims typically spend decades reliving the deaths of their loved ones while cases wend their way through the appeals process.

"The defendants, who have engaged in some very horrendous and horrible crimes, are almost elevated while the victims' stories are lost," Berberian said.

The journal, "The Death Penalty in California," indicates that 942 defendants were committed to prison on a charge of murder in the state in 2006. Of those, just 16, or 1.7 %, were sentenced to death.

Journal authors maintain that in California, there has never been a finding of prosecutorial abuse in the decision-making process, and that racial bias has not been a factor in the 30-year history of the death penalty.

While 48 % of adults charged with homicide are black, only 42 % of those were sent to death row, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. "It diminishes the victims when people burn candles and mourn someone who has committed a heinous crime," Klaas said. "People on death row are some of the worst individuals that appear on the face of the earth.

"The abolitionists refuse to acknowledge that evil exists and evil has to be put down."

Anti-death penalty activist Martin Roth of Corte Madera believes prisons should provide rehabilitation so that inmates can become productive when they are released; instead, too often they commit crimes hat return them to prison for life without the possibility of parole, or for a death sentence.

"San Quentin is a kind of glum place and I don't think anyone gets cured there," Roth said. "They keep going back because they don't get rehabilitated."

Copies of the journal are available on the Institute for Advancement of Criminal Justice Web site at

The institute is a nonprofit that researches criminal justice matters and supports victims' rights.

(source: Marin Independent Journal)

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