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Supreme Court's decision means justice for victims

Local Commentary

Posted: April 20, 2008 1:10 a.m.
Updated: June 21, 2008 5:02 a.m.
This week's Supreme Court decision upholding lethal injection as a legitimate method for execution is a watershed moment. The justices voted 7-2 on a Kentucky death row inmate's claim that three-ingredient lethal injection amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

The High Court rejected that argument with authority; the decision wasn't even close. This clears the way to lift the unofficial moratorium on executions.

The overwhelming 7-2 vote (Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter dissenting) is the watershed moment. The 79 percent majority decision exceeds public opinion polls that most Americans overwhelmingly support the death penalty. A Gallup poll in January 2008 shows about 70 percent of Americans support capital punishment for a person convicted of murder. The Harris Poll shows about 63 percent of Americans believe in capital punishment. Republicans, conservatives, and males display support by even greater percentages than those just mentioned.

Avoiding pain no issue

Chief Justice John Roberts made the High Court's decision crystal clear: "The Constitution does not demand the avoidance of risk of pain carrying out executions. Simply because an execution may result in pain whether by accident or the inescapable consequence of death does not establish cruel and unusual punishment."

Associate Justice Anton Scalia, in his analysis for the majority decision, asks, "Where does this come from that you must find a method of execution that causes the least pain?" Justice Scalia's comments are clearly directed at U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel, who interfered with the scheduled California execution of convicted rapist and murderer Michael Morales two years ago. Activist Judge Fogel ordered two anesthesiologists to monitor all California executions to make certain the condemned were not in pain. For ethical reasons, specifically the Hippocratic Oath pledged by all medical doctors, the anesthesiogists declined to participate; thus the de facto moratorium followed.

Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center, a group opposed to capital punishment, concedes that states will likely begin setting new execution dates. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a defender of capital punishment, will follow the Supreme Court decision and has ordered Attorney General Jerry Brown and the Department of Corrections to set dates for the 669 (including 15 women) who reside in the Condemned Unit at San Quentin.

Evil misfits

What continues to perplex me is all the fuss, effort, and legal maneuvering undertaken to spare the lives of these evil, horrific creatures who commit these heinous crimes. Is this some kind of a noble gesture of moral superiority that individuals who want to spare the lives of those who commit these gruesome crimes have some special honorable status? I just don't understand and probably never will grasp why there is a lobby to save these evil misfits. Here are just a few of these monsters:

• Kevin Cooper, in 1983 escaped from Chino State Prison, hid in waiting, and two days later slaughtered with a hatchet and knife the Douglas Ryen family and friend Christopher Hughes of Chino Hills.

• Richard Allen Davis in 1993 kidnapped 12-year-old Polly Klass from her Petaluma home then raped and murdered her.

• Alejandro Avila in 2002 snatched 5-year-old Samantha Runnion off the street near her Stanton, California, home, sexually abused and murdered her. He then staged her nude for all to see in an open area near Lake Elsinore.

• David Westerfield in 2002 kidnapped 7-year-old Danielle Van Dam from her bedroom in San Diego. Danielle's decomposed body was found 28 days later in a remote area of San Diego County.

All the above professed their innocence.

On June 12 in San Jose, Judge Fogel will set a schedule for the state's proposed execution protocol.

The real question begs to be asked: Why does it take so long to execute a condemned inmate in California? That answer will be the subject of a future commentary.

As always, I welcome your comments.

Roger Gitlin is a Santa Clarita resident, teacher and Minuteman. He can be reached at His column reflects his own views, not necessarily those of The Signal.


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