Tuesday, September 11, 2012


While I am 100 percent behind these prosecutors, I do not believe they have a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding in speeding up executions, given the aversion to executions by California’s liberal judiciary.

By Howard Mintz

San Jose Mercury News
September 10, 2012

With California voters readying to consider whether to retain the death penalty, two prominent district attorneys, including San Mateo County's, are mounting a rebel legal campaign to kick-start executions in San Quentin's long-dormant death chamber.

Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley has been heading the charge, moving in recent months to sidestep legal obstacles that have put executions on hold for nearly seven years and secure execution dates for condemned killers Mitchell Sims and Tiequon Cox.

But San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe has quietly joined in, asking a local judge to set an execution date for Robert Green Fairbank, sent to death row for the 1985 murder of a San Francisco woman.

The legal gambit is spurred by some prosecutors' mounting frustration with Gov. Jerry Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris, who instead of rushing to resume executions have focused on fighting state and federal court orders that froze executions because of flaws in the prison system's three-drug execution procedures. The state, in fact, assured a federal judge two years ago that there would be no attempts to execute inmates until those legal battles were resolved.

"Prosecutors and victims' advocates throughout the state are indeed frustrated with the failure of the (state) to get this process moving," said Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation.

Wagstaffe and Cooley argue that California can execute inmates with a single drug, avoiding the legal stalemate over the state's botched attempts to retain its three-drug method. Other states such as Washington, Arizona and Ohio have adopted that approach.

A Los Angeles judge on Monday is expected to hear the latest round of arguments in Cooley's maneuver, and a San Mateo judge will consider the Fairbank case in October, not long before voters decide the fate of Proposition 34 -- the first time Californians have been asked to abolish the death penalty since it was reinstated in 1978.

Wagstaffe could not be reached. But Los Angeles prosecutors insist their demand for swift execution dates is unrelated to the ballot measure, saying both Cox and Sims have exhausted their legal appeals and should pay for crimes committed decades ago.

"We're not trying to rush and get an execution before Nov. 6," said deputy district attorney Michelle Hanisee. "This is about getting our system back on track."

Death penalty foes say the move to execute the inmates flouts a number of court rulings requiring California to fix its lethal injection procedures, which have been challenged because of concerns they expose the condemned to a cruel and unusual death.

"I can't imagine what they are thinking," said Natasha Minsker, Proposition 34's campaign manager. "They're trying to do an end run around the law."

With more than 720 murderers on death row, Fairbank, Cox and Sims are in a group of about a dozen inmates who have run out of legal options to avoid execution. All that stands in the way of lethal injections for them are several court orders that have blocked executions -- and legal experts say the two prosecutors' arguments will not get them past those orders.

A federal judge was the first to halt executions in 2006. More recently, a Marin County judge put executions on hold, concluding that the state did not follow proper administrative procedures when prison officials crafted new lethal injection guidelines.

The Brown administration has appealed that decision, but in court papers says prison officials are working on the single-drug option. Cooley and Wagstaffe argue that San Quentin can use that method right now, saying in their court filings that individual trial judges have the legal authority to order prison officials to carry out executions on a case-by-case basis.

Sara Eisenberg, lawyer for death row inmates in the Marin case, said the courts have barred California from carrying out executions until it devises a legal, court-approved method.

"That should be the end of the story," she said. "In my view, that's just how it's got to be."

Harris's office declined to comment, referring questions to state prison officials. But in court papers, the attorney general and prison officials appear to agree with Eisenberg, telling the judge in the Los Angeles case that ordering them to carry out an execution would conflict with existing injunctions.

"Any such order would place (the state) in an untenable position because it would not be able to simultaneously comply with one order directing it to carry out executions and another order barring it from doing so," state lawyers wrote.

San Mateo prosecutors, however, say the time has come for Fairbank to be executed with a single, fatal dose of a sedative for the rape and murder of Wendy Cheek, whose naked, partially burned body was found in a grove along Highway 280 in San Mateo County 27 years ago.

"We feel the court can set a date," deputy district attorney Joe Cannon said. "The law mandates that the death penalty be imposed in this particular situation."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The arguments in support of the ballot measure to abolish the death penalty are exaggerated at best and, in most cases, misleading and erroneous. Proposition 34 is being funded primarily by a wealthy company out of Chicago, the ACLU, and similarly-oriented trust funds. It includes provisions that would only make our prisons less safe for both other prisoners and prison officials and significantly increase the costs to taxpayers due to life-time medical costs, the increased security required to coerce former death-row inmates to work, etc. The amount “saved” in order to help fund law enforcement is negligible and only for a short period of time. Bottom line, the “SAFE” Act is an attempt by those who are responsible for the high costs and lack of executions to now persuade voters to abandon it on those grounds. Obviously, these arguments would disappear if the death penalty was carried forth in accordance with the law. Get the facts at and supporting evidence at http://cadeathpenalty.webs.com and http://waiting4justice.org/.