Opinion: Gil Garcetti: California’s death penalty doesn’t serve justice


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Gil Garcetti, district attorney of Los Angeles County from 1992 to 2000, responds to a March 25 Times Op-Ed article on California’s death penalty. If you would like to share your thoughts on a recent Times article, editorial or Op-Ed and would like to participate in Blowback, here are our FAQs and submission policy.


Retired Superior Court Judge Donald A. McCartin expresses clear and persuasive reasons why California should abolish the death penalty. I was the Los Angeles County district attorney for eight years and chief deputy district attorney for four years. During those years, I was responsible for my office’s decision to seek the death penalty in dozens of cases. In each case, the facts were so horrific and compelling that I permitted the prosecutors to pursue the ultimate punishment.

Part of a prosecutor’s responsibility is to seek justice and retribution for the victim of a murder. Of special concern throughout my 32 years as a prosecutor was the effect of a particular crime on the family and close friends of the victim. To me, those family members and friends also became victims of the crime.

Many of these victims were happy when my office sought the death penalty and if the jury returned a death verdict, a result that never came quickly. It was unusual for a capital case to be resolved within a year from the date of the original crime; two to three years was not uncommon. The living victims of a particular crime might think that a death verdict provides closure, but for most, there was no such closure. These victims instead faced years of torment thanks to the incredibly lengthy legal review process required for all cases in which the death penalty is imposed.

A case in point is the punishment imposed on Rodney James Alcala, whom Judge McCartin sentenced to death more than 30 years ago. What is the reason to have a death penalty when Alcala still sits on death row awaiting execution for murders he committed decades ago? Is this justice? Is this really fair to the family and friends of the murdered 12-year-old Robin Samsoe and his four other victims?

California’s death penalty does not and cannot function the way its supporters want it to. It is also an incredibly costly penalty, and the money would be far better spent keeping kids in school, keeping teachers and counselors in their schools and giving the juvenile justice system the resources it needs. Spending our tax dollars on actually preventing crimes, instead of pursuing death sentences after they’ve already been committed, will assure us we will have fewer victims such as Robin Samsoe.

-- Gil Garcetti


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