Fast Focus: 'Do we need a death penalty?' Make it a true life sentence

May 18, 2014 

Considering the nature of Clayton Lockett's crime, I don't think all the hand-wringing over his botched execution is justified. I wouldn't even call it "botched." He did die, after all, and probably suffered less than the 19-year-old woman he kidnapped, beat, raped, shot and then buried while she was still breathing.

However, because juries are fallible and eyewitness testimony is unreliable, I don't believe we should sentence people to death. Once the death penalty is carried out, it's obviously irreversible. But I do believe that anyone convicted of a premeditated murder should never see the outside of a prison again. Today, there are just too many plea bargains, too many lenient sentences and too many early paroles.

California has given us some examples of what not to do. When the California Supreme Court struck down the state's death penalty in 1972, Charles Manson and Sirhan Sirhan were let off the hook and became eligible for parole. While I don't think any parole board would ever release those particular inmates, there were 105 other murderers whose death sentences were commuted. There was no "life without parole" law in the state until 1977.

Before Dan White shot and killed San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, he had to sneak the gun in through a basement window of city hall to avoid the metal detectors. What could be more premeditated than that? And yet, he served only five years of a seven-year sentence for voluntary manslaughter. When he was free, he carried out his own death sentence by committing suicide, but the public would be better served if he were still rotting in prison.

So, why can't we disallow plea-bargaining in first-degree murder cases? Why can't we make it mandatory that everyone who murders with premeditation will serve a real, honest-to-God life sentence without any possibility of parole? Yes, it costs a lot to keep an inmate in prison for a lifetime, but I don't care about that. I just want to know that if someone murders with premeditation, he or she will never be free again.

-- Dennis Cresswell, Pasco

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