CAMPAIGN WATCH : It’s All a Matter of Record

Dianne Feinstein has charged that if John K. Van de Kamp were elected governor, he would not enforce the death penalty, and that, if he’d had his way, “the Hillside Strangler today would be on the street.” The public record says something else.

Van de Kamp was district attorney when Angelo Buono Jr. went on trial. As the proceedings went forward, Kenneth Bianchi, the key witness against Buono, repeatedly changed his story. Roger Kelly, the deputy district attorney trying the case, became convinced that Bianchi was an unreliable witness. As he was ethically obliged to do, Kelly moved to dismiss the murder charges, pending further investigation, while going ahead with a trial of Buono’s alleged sex offenses. Van de Kamp, relying on the judgment of an experienced prosecutor, concurred in the decision. At no time did the district attorney contemplate simply putting Buono “back on the street.”

Feinstein’s allegation that there is some antagonism between Van de Kamp’s personal reservations about the death penalty and his ability to discharge a governor’s legal obligations reflects an even deeper confusion. Candidates, like anyone else, have a right to be judged on what they do and not on what they think. As district attorney, John K. Van de Kamp prosecuted capital cases; as attorney general, he has pursued death penalty appeals through every level of review. These things, too, are a matter of record.