McCarthy Disagrees but Still Backs Bird

Times Staff Writer

Lt. Gov. Leo T. McCarthy, a recent convert to capital punishment, said Wednesday that he disagrees with the overturning of at least eight death penalty cases by the state Supreme Court but still intends to vote next year for Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird.

The Democratic lieutenant governor, who until last July had been an unbending opponent of the death penalty, said the assassination of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and the controversial light sentence killer Dan White received played a large part in changing his mind. McCarthy and Moscone served together as San Francisco supervisors and in the Legislature.

At a breakfast with The Times Sacramento Bureau, McCarthy disclosed that although he intends to vote for Bird and other Supreme Court justices seeking confirmation next year, he disagrees with the court's action in overturning some death penalty cases.

"I think there are a series of death penalty . . . convictions that should have been affirmed, should be carried out," he said. "As I have read some of the decisions, I think there are at least eight or nine cases where convictions should have been affirmed."

McCarthy, who is seeking reelection next year, said he plans to vote for Bird and Justices Cruz Reynoso and Joseph Grodin, all appointees of former Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. The three have been targeted by conservatives for ouster. McCarthy said he also will vote for Malcolm M. Lucas, who was appointed to the court by Gov. George Deukmejian.

A fifth member of the court, veteran Stanley Mosk, has indicated that he may retire and not seek voter approval.

McCarthy said they all meet his "test of integrity, judicial demeanor, honesty, rational interpretation of the Constitution and the laws of the state."

Became Convinced

He said in his travels throughout the state during the last three years as lieutenant governor, he became convinced in conversations with ordinary citizens that the punishment being administered to murderers is not coming close to matching the punishment endured by the victims and their survivors.

He said this "enormous gap" was articulated by a "great number of people who are not Wild West mentalities--I'm not talking about National Rifle Assn. members." He described them as "people that are calm, dispassionate and they don't understand how this whole thing is working. It's not just the first-degree murder thing. It is the parole system."

McCarthy, who in 1953 was kidnapped by a criminal who had just killed a San Francisco policeman and was forced at gunpoint to drive the slayer to Los Angeles, said his recent conversion to capital punishment resulted from a "mix of ingredients," including the assassination of Moscone.

"I saw what happened to George Moscone's killer," McCarthy said of Dan White. "Moscone's is one that may stand out very much in my mind."

Fatally Shot Two

White sneaked up and shot Moscone and San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk at City Hall on Nov. 27, 1978. He was convicted on two counts of voluntary manslaughter, sentenced to seven years and eight months and freed on parole Jan. 6, 1984.

McCarthy declined to say whether he thinks that White should have been sentenced to death. But he said, "I'll say this: The punishment that was meted out did not come close to what I think was appropriate for the crime."

The career-long liberal also said, "at this point in my life I am satisfied that there is such roaring injustice as the system now works that the death penalty is a fair option, at least in the most brutal murder cases."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World