De­lay­ing the death penalty

Los Angeles Times - - Opinion -

In spite of a last-minute de­lay by the gover­nor, Al­bert Green­wood Brown is still slated to die this week. Few would mourn the con­victed mur­derer-rapist’s pass­ing, but it would nonethe­less be a sad day for Cal­i­for­nia.

Brown, 56, is poised to be the first in­mate killed in the state’s new death cham­ber in San Quentin, built af­ter U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fo­gel or­dered a stay on ex­e­cu­tions in Cal­i­for­nia in 2006 be­cause its three-drug lethal-in­jec­tion method ap­peared to vi­o­late the con­sti­tu­tional ban on cruel and un­usual pun­ish­ment. Brown’s attorneys say Fo­gel’s de­ci­sion last week not to block their client’s ex­e­cu­tion was rushed, and that even though Fo­gel is giv­ing Brown the op­tion of a sin­gle-drug method that is con­sid­ered more hu­mane, the judge still hasn’t ex­am­ined the new death cham­ber or prop­erly stud­ied new train­ing pro­ce­dures for ex­e­cu­tion­ers.

They may have a point, but that’s not why we’re dis­ap­pointed. We had hoped that Fo­gel’s stay would start a di­a­logue in Cal­i­for­nia about the death penalty, which is ob­jec­tion­able for a host of rea­sons, and not just be­cause the three-drug death cock­tail may not ease the pain of the con­demned. We’d hoped Cal­i­for­ni­ans would be shaken by the case of Cameron Todd Willing­ham, who was ex­e­cuted in Texas in 2004 fol­low­ing a con­vic­tion based on shoddy foren­sics ev­i­dence, or of the 17 death-row in­mates in other states who were ex­on­er­ated by DNA test­ing. We’d hoped they would no­tice that cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment has no de­ter­rent ef­fect on vi­o­lent crime, or that the cost of car­ry­ing it out is help­ing to bank­rupt the state, or that most de­vel­oped na­tions have aban­doned it be­cause of its es­sen­tial in­hu­man­ity.

They didn’t. Al­though Sch­warzeneg­ger is­sued a re­prieve that will put off Brown’s ex­e­cu­tion un­til at least Thurs­day, he fa­vors al­low­ing ex­e­cu­tions to pro­ceed, as do both the Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can can­di­dates to re­place him. That’s the po­lit­i­cally pop­u­lar choice; a re­cent Field poll showed that 70% of Cal­i­for­ni­ans fa­vor the death penalty. If the grue­some work re­sumes, we will have only our­selves to blame.

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