Bar groups urge moratorium on California death penalty
SAN FRANCISCO – A delegation of 450 attorneys representing local bar associations statewide is urging a moratorium on the death penalty in California.
The Conference of Delegates of the California Bar Associations, representing prosecutors, criminal defenders and civil attorneys from dozens of bar groups says executions should be put on hold pending an inquiry into whether California administers the ultimate punishment fairly and uniformly.
“If you make a mistake, it’s not like you can go back and correct a mistake because the person is dead,” said Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Danette Meyers, who has sent two men to death row.
The group is urging the California Legislature, and ultimately, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, to impose a two-year moratorium on executions – a ban that could eventually become permanent. The proposal would create an independent investigative committee focusing on race, the reliability of convictions and whether the condemned had adequate legal representation. The group also wants an inquiry into the financial cost of capital punishment and whether the penalty is imposed too often.
Statewide, about 39 percent of inmates awaiting execution are white, 35 percent black and 18 percent are Hispanic, according to California Department of Corrections data. By comparison, California’s overall population is 47 percent white, 33 percent Hispanic and just six percent black.
But geography also clearly plays a role, and prosecutors in some counties seek death in cases that would not be a capital trial in others, Meyers said.
“I don’t know if Scott Peterson was charged with crimes in L.A. County, Orange County or San Diego County, I don’t necessarily know Scott Peterson would be looking at the death penalty,” said Meyers, who supports the death penalty despite her vote.
In the Peterson case, Stanislaus County prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for the 31-year old fertilizer salesman accused of killing his wife, Laci, and their unborn son. The case is being tried in San Mateo County because of considerable pretrial publicity.
The moratorium recommendation comes on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court this month rejecting an appeal from California condemned inmate Donald Beardslee, now 61, who was convicted of killing Stacy Benjamin, 19, and her friend Patty Geddling, 23, after a drug deal went sour at his Redwood City apartment in April 1981.
On appeal, Beardslee claimed ineffective assistance of counsel and other issues. He said his now-deceased attorney was reading “Bon Appetit” magazines while Beardslee was testifying.
A judge was to have set an execution date Friday, but the California Supreme Court halted that so Beardslee could obtain new counsel in a fresh bid to avoid lethal injection.