Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Death Penalty is Dead

A Los Angeles Times story today reports the death by natural causes of a convicted killer who lived on death row since 1983:
A murderer who spent 26 years on death row has died of natural causes, the 70th condemned prisoner to succumb to old age, suicide or murder compared with 13 executed by the state since capital punishment resumed in 1978, the state reported Thursday.

Albert Cecil Howard, 57, died at a hospital near San Quentin State Prison on Wednesday, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said in a statement.

Howard was convicted and sentenced to death a year after the May 25, 1982, murder of 74-year-old Lois Roy Fried of Tulare County.

There are 680 inmates on death row, where the condemned now spend an average of 25 years while exhausting state and federal appeals.

The year Mr. Howard was condemned to die was the year of: the M*A*S*H finale; Michael Jackson first moonwalked; Lotus 1-2-3 and MS Word came out as the new "killer aps" for the PC; Tom Brokaw became the NBC News anchorman; the Russians shot down KAL 007; 241 Americans were killed in Lebanon in a truck bombing by Iranian-backed Hezbolah; and baseball all-stars including Ryan Braun, Miguel Cabrera, Joe Mauer, Dustin Pedroia, Huston Street and Justin Verlander were born.

In other words, 1983 was a long time ago.

While I am a strong believer in the death penalty, I don't see how it makes any sense at all if we cannot execute the guilty anywhere near the time they were convicted. If Albert Howard had lived another 10 years and we killed him 36 years after he murdered Ms. Fried, hardly anyone who remembered the case would have been around to see justice done.

I think there are two good reasons to have capital punishment: 1) Because it is the penalty which best matches the crime. You willfully and criminally take a life; you sacrifice your own; and 2) Because it will deter other murderers.

However, if the punishment is long delayed -- I think 26 years qualifies as a long delay -- then it really has very little, if any deterent value and by killing someone who is most certainly an old man it no longer matches the crime very well.

By way of reform, I suggest we have a time limit for imposing the death penalty: 2 years. The clock begins the moment of sentencing.

At that point, an appeal must automatically be filed and an appeals court must hear and decided the case within 6 months. The appeals court should rule on any and all questionable decisions of the trial judge and the attorneys in the case.

If the appeals court refuses to throw out the conviction on a technicality, a special evidentiary court should determine whether there is any new evidence which requires a new trial or if there is any evidence which otherwise suggests the convicted man is possibly innocent. Within 12 months of the death sentence being determined, the evidentiary court must issue its final ruling.

If the case is again not overturned, a final appeal on technical questions and evidence should be heard by the state supreme court, which must issue a ruling no later than 18 months after conviction the determination of the sentence.

If the supreme court does not order a new trial on the grounds of evidence or technical legal procedures, the state would have another 6 months to execute the condemned prisoner.

While it is not cheap to go through the death penalty process I've laid out, it is far more expensive to continue with the wasteful system we have today, which has no timelines and results in endless and costly delays.


danny said...

Hello. I saw your post on the carolla boards and linked to your site. I don't know if you like podcasts in general or if you're just a fan of ace but if you are looking for some other podcasts you should check out It's not daily but we have about 2 years of archives that you can also get in the itunes store by searching shoddy radio. Anyway if you get a chance to listen we'd love to hear what you think and if not good luck with the blog. By the way, I was born in 81 so this guy basically lived my entire life on death row. Every memory I have and everything I know happened while this guy was living on borrowed time. The death sentence is a joke.

rezon said...

Ricardo. I have turned on the death penalty. Perhaps marrying a commie European did it, but I have come to believe it really is nothing but state sanctioned murder. It is a bit like Cheney on terrorism, "we have to do it to them before they do it to us."

I agree that sexual offenders that kidnap and rape kids need to be locked up for life. In barely liveable conditions. But let them kill each other in prison and do our work for us.