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January 21, 2013

Will California ever have an active death chamber?

The question in the title of this post is inspired by this new article from the San Jose Mercury News which is headlined "California death penalty: Will state follow Arizona, which has resumed executions after a long hiatus?".  Here are excerpts:

When Arizona prison officials injected condemned rapist and murderer Richard Stokley with a single, fatal drug dose last month, it marked the state's sixth execution of the year in the nation's second busiest death chamber.

Now that California voters in November narrowly preserved the death penalty, Arizona's path could foreshadow the future for this state, where not a single one of the 729 death row inmates have marched to execution in seven years.

As in California, interminable legal tangles once shut down Arizona's death penalty system as the state executed only one inmate, who volunteered to die, from 2001 to 2010. But Arizona emerged from numerous court battles that removed all of the legal roadblocks....

The result has been 11 executions since October 2010, nearly the number California has carried out since it restored the death penalty in 1978. Significantly, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, often the last word for death penalty appeals in the Western states, has not intervened.

Now, legal challenges holding up California's executions are expected to resume this year. "I do think eventually the cases all come to an end," said Dale Baich, who heads a unit representing Arizona death row inmates. "But (in California) it might be later than sooner."

In fact, the timetable may still be measured in years, not months. Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye in December told reporters it could take three years for executions to resume, particularly because of the lingering legal cloud over the state's lethal injection procedures.

At least 14 inmates have exhausted all of their legal appeals and would be eligible for immediate execution if California resolves the broader legal challenges over the death penalty. Those include Bay Area condemned killers Harvey Heishman (Alameda County), Robert Fairbank (San Mateo County) and Royal Hayes (Santa Cruz). Several more are close to their last chance in the courts, as the 9th Circuit, which used to overturn death sentences with regularity, has after recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings made it tougher to tamper with death judgments....

Kent Cattani, head of death penalty appeals in the Arizona attorney general's office, notes that Arizona had it easier than California because prison officials could switch to the single-drug option with a stroke of a pen, rather than going through California's lengthy administrative process. But, he adds, if California resolves the lethal injection issue, it appears the 9th Circuit's decisions allowing Arizona executions to proceed would also apply in California.

Death penalty opponents, however, are not conceding California will become the next Arizona. Natasha Minsker, campaign manager for Proposition 34, which sought to repeal the death penalty, promises a return to the voters, although it may be a few years.

And Michael Laurence, head of the California agency that represents death row inmates, considers all of the roadblocks insurmountable. "We're stuck with this dysfunctional system."

Prosecutors and death penalty supporters disagree. Senior Assistant Attorney General Ronald Matthias, who heads the state's death penalty unit, said "there is no significant difference between Arizona and California" other than that Arizona has an approved execution method.

January 21, 2013 at 08:59 AM | Permalink


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Those who hold up California's capital punishment are evil. First, it starts with that hack Clinton appointee Jeremy Fogel. That moron thought that a 100 watt lightbulb was a constitutional requirement. Second, you have the California Supreme Court which refused to expedite an appeal. Third, you have the governor.

Liberals love to yap about the rule of law (although they usually mean adopting their policy preferences). But they utter nary a peep about the foot-dragging going on here. Whatever one thinks of the death penalty in the abstract, there are victims' families who have been stuck in limbo for close to thirty years. Doesn't Jerry Brown care about them? The answer is no. That makes him an evil man.

Posted by: federalist | Jan 21, 2013 9:55:28 AM

federalist, take heart. The killers are locked in 6' by 10' cells hours a day, and they are debilitated and dying from disease and old age. The death penalty imposed by nature is moving much faster than that imposed the California law ever will. So what. Dead is dead in my book.

Posted by: onllooker1 | Jan 21, 2013 1:13:55 PM

onlooker1, tell that some of the victims' families . . . . and that these scum are suffering doesn't absolve Jerry Brown and the rest of their evildoing.

Posted by: federalist | Jan 21, 2013 4:32:45 PM

onlooker1 --

Isn't it a bit strange to portray someone who shoots some terrified convenience store clerk through the head, or rapes and strangles an 11 year-old, or terrorizes and beats to death some couple in their 70's, as the "victim"? If they want our sympathy for their bouts with old age and disease (which afflict everyone, not just criminals), they had the option of changing their behavior to something relatively nice, like beating their girlfriend senseless or selling meth to a 16 year-old.

The other problem with old age as adequate punishment is that, on the way to old age, violent prisoners kill again -- and again and again. Only after the DP is carried out can we be sure they won't do it again.

Does this make a difference to you?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 21, 2013 5:06:19 PM

Bill Otis, nowhere do I portray those on death row as "victims" On the contrary, I'm on your side and on federalist's side: I want them suffer. I take pleasure in the their continuous, daily suffering as they slowly and painfully die from disease and old age. I also take pleasure in the psychological torment they feel, day after day, day after day, knowing they will never experience freedom, never walk on the beach, never see the stars, but will die in obscurity. The victims' families should take some comfort from the endless, daily suffering these miscreants experience.

Posted by: onlooker1 | Jan 21, 2013 5:44:21 PM

onlooker, I see your point, and I think that death row inmates should have a lousy existence, but I really just think they ought to be executed.

Posted by: federalist | Jan 21, 2013 5:56:50 PM

onlooker1 --

Very clever. Indeed, too clever. Yes, by all means, those walks on the beach, seeing the stars, etc. Gosh, it's just so awful!

You not only portray killers as victims, you also portray federalist and me as being the gleeful sponsors of "torment."

Give it a rest. Like most other citizens, I want the death penalty carried out and promptly for those whose grisly behavior has earned it. I am no particular fan of suffering. I am a fan of giving them the ticket to the next world, the ticket they have earned, neither more nor less.

Someday, it's possible that you'll be able to distinguish between wanting criminals to suffer and wanting them to get the justice a humane but sober society has authorized.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 21, 2013 6:07:11 PM

To answer the question, I doubt California can ever get all the courts to green light the executions and get through all the administrative BS that they are famous for. I hope that I am mistaken.

Arizona is the only state in the 9th Circus jurisdiction to carry them out and quite efficiently.

Also, the inmates cannot walk on the beach. But can they at least see the Bay?

Posted by: DaveP | Jan 21, 2013 9:59:24 PM

I find it very interesting to hear about this topic. Thank you very much for sharing and as a California citizen, I really enjoyed learning more about this topic.

Posted by: Robert Reeves | Jan 22, 2013 4:26:13 PM

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