By Michele Hanisee, Guest commentary
This is in response to your editorial (Sept. 9, Herald) urging a no vote on Proposition 66.
Those in support of abolishing the death penalty point to the possibility of an innocent person being executed. In California this couldn’t be further from the truth. Those who commit a capital punishment-related crime will be prosecuted to full extent of the law. The innocent can take solace in knowing that a unanimous jury of 12 citizens must render the death verdict after an exhaustive trial where the accused murderer is represented by two highly competent attorneys and overseen by an independent judge who ensures a fair trial.
The death penalty is reserved for the worst of the worst offenders in California. These people have committed unspeakable atrocities against the citizens of California. People like Lonnie Franklin Jr. (the Grim Sleeper), who was just recently sentenced to death in Los Angeles for the killing of 10 young African-American women. Or Tiequon Cox, who was hired by an imprisoned Rolling 60s Crips gang member to kill. Cox entered the wrong home and murdered four people, including an 8-year-old and a 12-year-old. Then there’s Charles Ng, who was convicted of brutally murdering 11 people and most likely murdered 25 more. There’s also Lawrence Bittaker, who killed five young women after he raped and tortured them. The list goes on and on. To make matters worse, these horrific individuals, excluding Franklin Jr., have been sitting on death row for decades, costing California millions of dollars to house, feed, clothe, guard and provide health care to them.
There are 746 killers sitting on California’s death row. These inmates have murdered over 1,000 victims, including 226 children and 43 police officers; 294 victims were raped and/or tortured. These killers and their repetitive appeals are the reasons why a vote of No on Prop. 62 and Yes on Prop. 66 is recommended.
California’s death penalty is a dysfunctional mess that doesn’t bring justice to victims’ family members. However, by mending, not ending, the death penalty, we can change that.
Prop. 66 was written by legal scholars who know the ins and outs of the death penalty system. They have written Prop. 66 so that it speeds up the appeals process by eliminating legal and procedural delaying tactics while assuring due process protections for those sentenced to death. It ensures criminals sentenced to death are assigned a special appeals lawyer immediately by expanding the availability of lawyers to handle these appeals. Prop. 66 limits state appeals to five years instead of allowing for these convicted criminals to file appeal after appeal. However, the initiative does not impose a rigid deadline that must be met in every case as extraordinary cases may take longer. However, five years is generally sufficient to get through state appeals, even in the most complex cases.
While many point to the “exorbitant costs” associated with the death penalty, they forget how expensive it is to giving life without parole to these criminals. It’s estimated that it costs at least $50,000 per year to house, feed, guard and provide health care to someone in prison, and that it averages between 20 and 25 years from a jury’s sentence of death to an actual execution date. There are 746 inmates on death row, with an average age of 27, and average life expectancy of 74. Reducing someone’s punishment to life without parole will cost taxpayers $1.8 billion in housing costs alone.
What I along with other district attorneys, law enforcement officials and families of victims want is justice. Justice to impose a lawful sentence recommended by juries and imposed by judges across California. Some deem the death penalty as cruel and unusual punishment; however, most Californians disagree and believe that those convicted of these horrible crimes are depraved. In fact, any time we are asked to vote on whether or not to abolish the death penalty, Californians repeatedly vote to keep the death penalty intact. This year seems no different. A recent poll conducted by the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley found that 75.7 percent of Californians surveyed support Prop. 66.
Voters understand that the criminals on death row have been convicted of the most heinous crimes. Voters also realize that those left behind, grieving families throughout California and their loved ones, don’t deserve anything less than justice.
Justice is a reformed, not eliminated death penalty. I urge a NO vote on Proposition 62 and YES on Proposition 66.