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June 11, 2012

Do death row suicides justify speeding up, or shutting down, California's execution process?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new AP article, which is headlined "Death Row suicide highlights executions' delays."  Here are excerpts:

When James Lee Crummel hanged himself in his San Quentin Prison cell last month, he had been living on Death Row for almost eight years — and he was still years away from facing the executioner. California's automatic death penalty appeals take so long that the state's 723 condemned inmates are more likely to die of old age and infirmities — or kill themselves — than be put to death.

Since capital punishment was reinstated in 1978, California has executed 13 inmates, and none since 2006.  But 20 have committed suicide, including Crummel, who abducted, sexually abused and killed a 13-year-old boy on his way to school in 1979.  Another 57 inmates have died of natural causes.  The ponderous pace of this process has helped make the state's death row the most populous in the nation, and it has generated critics from all quarters.

Victim rights groups say the delays amount to justice denied.  Death penalty opponents say the process, like execution itself, amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.  And now the state's voters will get an opportunity this November to vote on a measure that would abolish the death penalty, which critics deride as an inefficient and expensive system for a financially troubled state.

It took the Supreme Court four years to appoint Crummel a public defender, and it took his attorney almost that long to file his opening brief after several time extensions. Crummel's appeal was expected to consume a few more years before the high court decided the case.

While most condemned inmates welcome legal delays, even those seeking a speedy resolution are stymied.  Scott Peterson, who was sentenced to death seven years ago for murdering his pregnant wife Laci, is attempting to get his case before the Supreme Court as soon as possible, because he says he was wrongly convicted.  Peterson's parents hired a top-notch private appellate lawyer after sentencing, while other Death Row inmates wait an average of five years each for appointment of taxpayer-funded public defenders....

Despite the growing backlog, district attorneys continue to send murderers to death row. Five new inmates have arrived this year, and several more are expected, including Los Angeles gang member 24-year-old Pedro Espinoza who was convicted of shooting to death a high school football player.  A jury recommended death for Espinoza, and a judge is scheduled formally sentence him in September.

Meantime, Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley is attempting to immediately resume executions of two longtime Death Row inmates Mitchell Carleton Sims, 52, and Tiequon Aundray Cox, 46, who have exhausted all of their appeals.  Sims has been on Death Row since 1987, Cox since 1986.  "It is time Sims and Cox pay for their crimes," said Cooley, who is asking that the inmates be executed with a single drug rather than the three-drug lethal cocktail now being challenged in federal and state courts.  The California District Attorneys Association is backing Cooley's attempt to resume executions.

June 11, 2012 at 09:59 AM | Permalink


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Wrong question professor: the suicides justify nothing.

Justice, a.k.a. swift punishment of the convicted, "justif[ies] speeding up...California's execution process".

{Uill, with the California DP, swift equates to a Rip Van Winkle time scale)

Posted by: Adamakis | Jun 11, 2012 10:36:35 AM

I don't think it tells us much one way or the other.

Posted by: Joe | Jun 11, 2012 10:41:47 AM

Death row should be shut down when the mind-bending murders that warrant (indeed sometimes cry out for) execution get shut down, neither before nor after.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 11, 2012 3:20:51 PM

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