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September 27, 2010

"California's idea of the death penalty is to bore them to death"

The title of this post is a quote from the father of a murder victim in this notable local story, which highlights that not much is likely to change for most California defendants on death row even if the state does manage to resume executions this week.  The effective piece is headlined "Local death row cases years from execution," and here are excerpts:

California's plan this week to carry out its first execution of a death row inmate since 2006 won't mean any local cases are closer to seeing a date set for lethal injection.  Of the 708 people on California's death row, seven men and one woman have been sent there by North County juries over the past two decades.

They probably will remain there a long time.  The process from sentencing to execution is cumbersome — and decades long.  "California's idea of the death penalty is to bore them to death," said Roy Coe, whose daughter was murdered when she interrupted a burglary in her Vista home in 2005.

Derlyn Ray Threats, the man convicted of killing Coe's daughter, Carolyn Neville, was sentenced to death last month and just moved onto death row at San Quentin State Prison.  Threats, 28, still faces "a ridiculous number of appeals," Coe said, adding that he knows it will be years before an execution date is set.  "There are guys in prison (on death row) for 30 years," Coe said. "I don't have that many years left in me."...

Since 1978, when California reinstituted the death penalty, 14 of the state's inmates have been executed — including one actually executed in Missouri for crimes committed in that state.  More than five times that number — 75 condemned inmates — have died of natural causes, suicide or other reasons, according to the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

The last five executions took place after condemned inmates had each spent more than 20 years on death row.  When Stanley "Tookie" Williams was put to death in December 2005, he had spent 24 years and eight months on death row.  Clarence Ray Allen, executed in January 2006, moved onto death row in 1982....  In the four years since the last execution, 20 death row inmates died of natural causes, and six committed suicide....

All death sentences are automatically appealed to the California Supreme Court.  But the process is greatly delayed because very few appellate attorneys are willing and qualified to handle death penalty cases.  It often takes more than five years to assign an attorney to handle the automatic appeal.  Even after the attorney is appointed, the process is slow and complicated, and it happens whether the inmate wants it or not.

Take the case of drifter Brandon Wilson, who was convicted of the 1998 slaying of 9-year-old Matthew Cecchi in an Oceanside Harbor public restroom.  Wilson, who asked the jury to "execute me," has been on death row since 1999.  Eleven years later, the opening brief of the mandatory appeal still has not been filed; his attorney has won the court's permission to delay the filing 27 times, most recently last week.

Repeated delays have been the story of the case of LaTwon Weaver, on death row since 1993. Weaver, the son of a Baptist minister, was found guilty of murder in the 1992 shooting death of Vista jeweler Michael Broome during a robbery.  Seventeen years after moving to San Quentin, his automatic appeal is not even far enough along that the state's Supreme Court has considered it or set a date for oral arguments.  Not all of the legal briefs necessary for the case have been filed.

California's handling of the death penalty really does give new meaning to the phrase "justice delayed is justice denied."  Consider this numerical spin on these realities: even if California were to resume executions this week and thereafter managed to conduct two executions in October and every single month thereafter, the state would not carry out the prescribed punishment of those currently on death row until roughly the year 2040!

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September 27, 2010 at 02:39 PM | Permalink


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Remember the phrase, honest services, of recent Supreme Court fame. The lawyer hierarchy headed by the California Supreme Court is guilty of violating its requirement, whatever the meaning of the phrase. This is a bunco scheme to save criminals, in order to generate lawyer jobs. They are trying to fool the public, and to stymie the death penalty against the will of the public.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 27, 2010 9:32:40 PM

the usual tack is to blame the ninth circuit for this state of affairs, but the california courts probably account for the lion's share of the litigation time in these cases. 11 years to file the initial brief on appeal! the crazy part is, i'm not sure that is particularly unusual.

Posted by: Anon | Sep 28, 2010 9:57:57 AM

Everyone is at fault in the California death penalty system. It has been the most dysfunctional by a long shot compared to any of the other states. As in another post,
this goes way back to the late 1970's and continues today.

Posted by: DaveP | Sep 28, 2010 2:43:26 PM

The death penalty is ultimately barbaric and ineffective in encourage reverence in our country's legal system. Reports have also indicated that it might even increase retaliation against law enforcement and it's legal actors: http://lawblog.legalmatch.com/2010/09/08/has-there-been-an-increase-in-threats-against-judges/

Posted by: mangostein | Sep 28, 2010 4:59:50 PM

The death penalty is a ridiculous state of mind! No one can or should want to decide who lives or dies. Who is the real monster! Honestly how can you kill murder a human to state killing is wrong! I am against the DEATH PENALTY because it's not justice for anyone! It's a no win policy that needs to be banished from our society to have a society! How does that murder justify another? Who gets that charge? It's an idiots law!

Posted by: LaNita | Dec 18, 2011 9:19:09 PM

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