Marcos Bretón

Opinion: End death penalty or charade of delays

Why even seek the death penalty when it hasn’t been implemented in California in nearly a decade and when Democrats who rule the state allow it to linger in perpetual limbo?

Jan Scully, the outgoing district attorney for Sacramento, answered the question without a hint of cynicism on Tuesday – quite a feat considering how cynical people on both sides of this issue have become.

Some death penalty supporters have come to believe that death penalty cases just waste taxpayer money because legal obstacles have prevented anyone from being put to death in California since Clarence Ray Allen was executed by lethal injection on Jan. 17, 2006.

Yet there was Scully, and her counterpart from Placer County, announcing they would seek the death penalty for Luis Enriquez Monroy Bracamontes, the Mexican national accused of killing two law enforcement officers in a terrifying late October crime spree that gripped the region.

“The death penalty is still in force in California. It’s still the will of the voters, and by not following this law we disrespect the will of the voters,” Scully said.

It’s true. California should either abolish the death penalty or abolish the legal charade of endless delays. State prisons house about 750 people sentenced to death, but only 13 inmates have been executed since 1978.

That fight could be returning to the ballot box in 2016. But before it does, consider points that death penalty opponents are loath to admit. In California, death penalty convictions are rarely overturned, Scully said.

In Scully’s 20 years as Sacramento County’s DA, prosecutions by her office have sent just 10 men to death row. “If you look at the cases where the death penalty has been found, they stand out,” Scully said. “They are very rare.”

Bracamontes is accused of carrying out a shooting and carjacking spree that terrorized residents from Sacramento to Auburn and resulted in the deaths of two peace officers. The facts of the case have not been presented in court, but what is publicly known is chilling enough. What’s the right thing to do?

Life without the possibility of parole is often offered as a more humane alternative, but some disagree. The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization, recently reported that solitary confinement – the alternative to death penalty employed in some states – is hardly humane.

“Some people condemned to solitary have chosen a swift and certain death over a life of daily torture. Data suggests that as many as half of all prison suicides take place in some form of isolation,” according to a Marshall Project commentary piece published by the Huffington Post recently.

There is no safe moral distance from this issue, even though we try to pretend there is. Some crimes and criminals are just different. Sometimes the punishment fits the crime.

Call The Bee’s Marcos Breton, (916) 321-1096.

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