Skip to comments.Calif. lawmakers: No more executions until we rethink the death penalty
Posted on 01/10/2006 1:48:40 PM PST by SmithL
SAN FRANCISCO (Court TV) The debate over the execution of Stanley "Tookie" Williams may have subsided, but for Californians a period of intense soul-searching over the death penalty may just be starting.
A month after the Crips founder was executed by lethal injection, state lawmakers are scheduled to begin hearings Tuesday on a bill which would place a moratorium on all executions until Jan. 1, 2009.
The debate comes on the heels of the New Jersey legislature's approval of a similar moratorium Monday.
The legislation in California, Assembly Bill 1121, would give a newly created bipartisan body the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice a chance to study California's capital punishment system and make recommendation for reforms, according to proponents.
Assemblyman Paul Koretz, one of AB 1121's co-sponsors, said he is not trying to subvert the state's death penalty law, which has been on the books for 28 years, but rather fix a system so that no innocent inmates are executed.
He said a high percentage of capital punishment cases are marred by troubling patterns, including unqualified defense attorneys and overreliance on testimony from disreputable jailhouse snitches.
"We want to give the commission a chance to do their work," he said. "It doesn't make common sense to allow that you do have problems with the system, and in the meantime keep executing people. It makes sense to take a short break. These people are on death row an average of 17 to 20 years. What is an extra couple of years?"
A long appeals process
But opponents of the moratorium argue that California has a painstaking appeal process in capital cases. Death row inmates, including the state's most famous prisoner, Scott Peterson, have an opportunity to make no fewer than six appeals, and the cases typically take two decades from sentencing to execution.
In fact, while the state has the nation's most populous death row, with 647 inmates, capital punishment in California has been a rare occurrence. In the 28 years since it became legal, only 12 death row inmates have been executed in California. Texas, by contrast, has put to death 355 prisoners since 1976.
"We have six steps we go through to protect us," said Harriet Salarno, who founded a group called Justice for Murder Victims in 1979 after her daughter was killed. "If you look at our capital-case appeals process, it speaks for itself."
Michael Rushford, executive director of the pro-death penalty Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, said polls have consistently shown that 60 to 75 percent of Californians support the death penalty. He argues that the recent attention on Williams only strengthened the case for the death penalty.
"They really picked a bad guy when they picked Tookie," he said. "I think it blew up in their faces."
But Assemblyman Mark Leno, chairman of the assembly's public safety committee and a sponsor of AB 1121, said the time is right for a moratorium. He cited a Field Poll survey finding that a temporary death penalty moratorium has the support of 73 percent of California voters, including 40 percent who support the death penalty.
Leno said similar moratoriums have either been passed or are under consideration in New Jersey, Alabama, North Carolina, Illinois, and Louisiana.
He said studies have consistently shown that those convicted of killing whites are more likely to be put to death than those found guilty of killing blacks, and the death penalty is more likely to be applied in rural murders than urban cases.
"No one on death row is going anywhere, and no one who is scheduled for an execution is going anywhere," he said. "We just want to make sure there are no mistakes being made."
The moratorium has also attracted unlikely support from attorney Donald Heller, who wrote California's death penalty law.
"I think [the system] is broken and beyond repair," Heller said. "I think there is a real possibility we could execute an innocent person. Unless you have lot of money, you're hampered in putting up a reasonable defense."
Executions to go forward
Even if the moratorium passes the assembly, it would need approval from the state senate and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has not yet granted clemency in any capital case.
Moreover, the bill would not pass in time to spare the life of Clarence Ray Allen, slated to be executed on Jan. 19, or Michael Morales, who faces lethal injection on Feb. 17, according to Nathan Barankin, spokesman for California Attorney General Bill Lockyer.
"[AB 1121] is not an issue in the Clarence Ray Allen case, and it's not going to be an issue in the Morales case, absent any new evidence," Barankin said. "I don't see that happening. What I do see the bill doing is prompting the difficult moral discussion people should be constantly be having."
Allen, a Choctaw Indian who ran a ruthless robbery gang in California's Central Valley, was serving a life sentence for murdering his son's girlfriend in 1980 when he ordered the deaths of eight witnesses to the crime. A hired hit man Allen met in prison carried out two of those murders and also fatally shot two teenagers who happened to be on the scene.
Allen, 76, is blind, confined to a wheelchair, and has advanced diabetes. While proponents argue that the state should not kill an elderly disabled man, others point out that Allen has already proven he can kill behind bars.
"He illustrated exactly why you should have the death penalty and why he should have been executed two decades ago," Rushford said. "He is the best argument I can think of for the death penalty."
Patricia Pendergrass, the sister of Bryon Schletewitz, one of Allen's four victims, said she opposed the moratorium. Pendergrass said she does not object to the commission's study, but feels the executions should continue while the system is being examined. As it is, she said, the death penalty process is so lengthy that both her parents did not live long enough to see Allen's execution.
"They never saw justice done. It's been a cloud that has just hovered over us," she said. "[Allen] has never shown any remorse at all, and it's my opinion that he still thinks he will get out of this somehow."
She said she is ready to see him die.
"A week from today I will be going to San Quentin," Pendergrass said. "It's not a good feeling, but I think there will be some sort of relief."
When you've got a state full of killers, your constituents don't like the death penalty.
The only thing that should be re-thought, is the snails pace at which they are executed. IMHO.
I don't have any problem passing laws that are designed to make sure that only the guilty are executed. Tookie was clearly guilty, however, just as is this other guy whose execution is coming up.
Okay, thinking... thinking... thinking...
Yep. It's a good idea.
Can we get on with them now?
Californians have souls?
< /sorry, just kidding >
That's the problem!
Let me guess -- these clowns want to save the life of Scott Peterson???
If you really analyze what the proponent said in the article, it isn't about guilt. It's about rich folks having a better chance than poor folks of getting away with their crime, because they didn't have "bad lawyers". His solution isn't to make it harder for the rich, but to make it easier for the poor to get loophole reprieves.
What's that old saying about "Justice delayed ..."?
Better yet, why not just throw open the doors and let 'em all go free? As that judge the other day said, prison isn't going to help that child molestor. Think of all the tax dollars that would save and Arnie could balance the budget.
I'd rather have the sponsors and co-sponsors of AB 1121 executed, than have this bill become law.
By John Ritter, USA TODAY
(Jan. 10) -- Less than a month after the uproar over gang leader Stanley "Tookie" Williams' clemency bid and execution, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has another mercy plea on his desk.
Though both involve multiple killers, Clarence Allen's case bears little resemblance to Williams'.
I thought Schwarzenegger denied Allen's clemency request already.
Dunno. Here's the only mention in the article.
Allen's is the fourth clemency petition before Schwarzenegger since he took office in November 2003. He had denied three, including the one from Williams in December. "I don't think Schwarzenegger has created reason for optimism" in Allen's case, Semel says. "On the other hand, it's not over until it's over."
According to the polls, 2/3 of California voters favor the death penalty. The 1/3 minority has already searched it's soul. They have decided what is best for the majority. Upon further soul searching they have realized that they have an excellent chance of over ruling the majority,
The bill passed the Assembly Public Safety Committee today on almost a straight party-line vote. (One Democrat declined to vote)
The policticans seem to forget that Californians have already spoken on the issue of the death penalty. They support it.
The policticians seem to forget when the State Supreme Court started overturning every death penalty case that came before them that the voters kicked them off the courts.
The policticians seem to forget this is not a win win issue for them. There will be a price to pay if they go down this road
Hey why stay in Texas...where you WILL be executed!
It would be a blessing if Kalifornia would either float off into the Pacific or just sink from the weight of its own crapola. Either way, I am tired of this mental disease that passes as a state.
Thank you for sharing that.
He's denied him a clemency hearing. He's still privately considering the clemency request. Tookie's clemency hearing was very unusual, and I'm certain was politically motivated.