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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Death Be Not Proud

A few days ago, Donald A. McCartin, a retired Orange County Superior Court judge, wrote an Op-Ed piece in the L.A. Times.

Judge McCartin announces that he had presided over 10 trials which produced death verdicts.

"As a result," he writes, "I became known as 'the hanging judge of Orange County,' an appellation that, I will confess, I accepted with some pride."

However, he reports, except for one of the 10 he condemned who died of "natural causes on death row, none of the others have been executed. One of the worst, the infamous Rodney Alcala, who kidnaped and murdered a 12 year old girl (Robin Samsoe), had been granted a retrial and was resentenced to death.

Sympathy for the victims and families, as well as hatred of the crime (and the criminal) haunted judge McCartin for all the years of appeals and delays. He apparently carried bitterness in his hardened heart.

Now, the judge confesses to a change of heart. 

Though "deeply angered by the fact that our system of laws has become so complex and convoluted that it makes a mockery of decisions I once believed promised resolution for the family members", the judge now is reconciled to the attitude of appellate courts that "death is different" demanding greater scrutiny and care in consideration of appeals. The judge "can live with" this reality.

In fact, he now regrets his support for the death penalty. he wishes he had sentenced Alcala, for instance, to life in prison withoiut parole, which would have spared the victim's family misery of thirty years of wait. 

The family could deal with the fact that the killer "would be shut away, never again to see a day of freedom," and go on to put thier lives back together. 

"And the People of California would (have saved) millions upon millions ... in tax dollars in this meaningless and ultimately fruitless pursuit of death."

Eliminating the death penalty, the judge concludes, would not only save all that money, but more importantly, would prevent "years of emotional torture for victims' family members waiting for that magical sense of 'closure' they've been falsely promised with death sentences that will never be carried out."

The judge then goes further, to state a truth which I long ago argued, spitting in the wind.

"There is actually, I've come to realize, no such thing as 'closure' when a loved one is taken. What families must find is reconciliation with the reality of thier loss, and that can begin the minute the perpetrator is sent to a prison he will never leave. But to ask them to endure the years of being dragged through the courts in pursuit of the ultimate punishment is a cruel lie."

"Let's stop asking people like me to lie to those victim's family members." The governor has the power to do what the state of Illinois has done, convert all 700 pending death row sentences to life without parole.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The 160th anniversary of the start of the Civil War is approaching. Reading about that event, which historians unanimously view as a great turning point in our country's life, I keep coming across facts that tease my sense of Deja vu.

For instance, the Republican party's platform in 1860, on which Lincoln ran, contains the following plank:

"That the Republican Party is opposed to any change in our naturalization laws, or any state legislation by which the rights of citizenship hitherto accorded by emigrants from foreign lands shall be abridged or impaired; and in favor of giving a full and efficient protection to the rights of all classes of citizens, whether native or naturalized, both at home and abroad."

In the context of the era, this provision promised repudiation of the "know-nothing" and nativist movements that were the tea party patriots of the day.

Another plank demanded:

"That appropriation by Congress for river and Harbor improvements of a National character, required for the accommodation and security of an existing commerce, are authorized by the constitution and justified by the obligation of Government to protect the lives and property of its citizens."


"That a railroad to the Pacific ocean is imperatively demanded by the interests of the whole country; that the Federal Government ought to render immediate and efficient aid in its construction; and that, as preliminary thereto, a daily overland mail should be promptly established."

Today, these planks would certainly be rejected by any Republican candidate as socialist.