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L.A. Is Hoping to Get a Crack at a Killer

Those who believe in an eye for an eye, a life for a life, have a special problem in Timothy McVeigh. It’s a shame, they say, that he can’t be put to death 168 times.

And once is not enough, they would agree, for Glen Edward Rogers. Already convicted of one murder and linked to four others, Rogers has been recommended for Florida’s fast-track death row. Recently, Florida’s cantankerous old electric chair, “Sparky,” set one of its occupants on fire.

In California, capital punishment is rare. The grim joke in Florida is that the death penalty is well done, if not necessarily done well.

But why are Gov. Pete Wilson and the financially challenged county of Los Angeles so eager to spend no small amount of taxpayers’ money to extradite Glen Rogers and put him on trial in Van Nuys? Are Louisiana, Mississippi and Ohio getting in line too?

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Deputy Dist. Atty. Lea Purwin D’Agostino says efforts to prosecute Rogers is more about justice for 1995 murder victim Sandra Gallagher than headlines. But the first reason she gives can’t be found in the official request from Gov. Wilson’s office to Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles.

The Los Angeles Police Department, she says, has earned a crack at Rogers. And the LAPD, she says, could use a high-profile victory.

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Crime buffs in L.A. remember Lea D’Agostino. She probably won’t appreciate the comparison, but D’Agostino might be considered the Marcia Clark of the ‘80s. Ten years have passed since the diminutive, demonstrative D’Agostino, in a time before “Court TV,” became famous as the prosecutor in the “Twilight Zone” manslaughter case. Film director John Landis and four co-defendants were ultimately found not guilty on all charges, but D’Agostino, with her stylish, red ensembles and thick hair invariably described as “raven,” became well known as the Dragon Lady of L.A. justice. Later she boasted of her nickname during her unsuccessful campaign for district attorney. She was runner-up to then-incumbent Ira Reiner.

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Extraditing murder suspects, as opposed to alleged car thieves, is routine business, prosecutors say, even those already convicted elsewhere of murder. D’Agostino says even the Kentucky state troopers who arrested Rogers “were rooting for us” in January, when authorities there were considering where to send Rogers.

“They felt the LAPD needed to win a big one after the O.J. case,” she said.

Although LAPD Homicide Dets. Michael Coblentz, Angel Lopez and Stephen Fiske had assembled powerful evidence against Rogers, Florida won the extradition derby, apparently because it is the only state in which the particular murder allegations involved carries the death penalty.

But now that Rogers has been convicted there, he could also face capital punishment under California law, due to the special circumstances of multiple murders--a point L. Michael Bogert, Gov. Wilson’s chief deputy for legal affairs, emphasized in his letter to Chiles.

A successful prosecution of Rogers in California, D’Agostino and Bogert further argue, will provide a kind of insurance if Rogers’ Florida conviction is compromised in appeals. D’Agostino notes that she may soon have to retry an 18-year-old double-murder case because of recent appeals. Better to get insurance against Rogers now, when evidence is fresh, she says, than to extradite later.

Then there are the reasons of the heart. Only by prosecuting Rogers for Sandra Gallagher’s murder, D’Agostino says, will the pain of Gallagher’s mother and others who loved her be eased. “I know everyone talks about closure, but until you’ve actually witnessed it, you have no comprehension how important it is.”

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Closure is not a cliche, as the survivors of Timothy McVeigh’s crime attest. The argument against extraditing and prosecuting Glen Rogers is the cost, which in one news account was estimated to be more than $750,000. D’Agostino thinks that estimate is absurdly high, but whatever money is spent on Rogers is money diverted from other cases whose victims are entitled to justice and closure as well. How, she asks, can you put a price tag on a human life?

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Now, that is a cliche. The crass truth is that we attach dollar signs to it in civil court all the time. The D.A. does it, too, by pouring a vast amount of resources into the O.J. Simpson prosecution while negotiating plea bargains on other cases.

There’s no guarantee that Florida, with its own parochial interests, will let Rogers, even briefly, travel so far from Sparky. But if Florida says no, perhaps California could at least arrange to have a few seats reserved at Rogers’ execution, just in case Sandra Gallagher’s loved ones want to be there.

Scott Harris’ column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Readers may write to him at The Times’ Valley Edition, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth 91311, or via e-mail at scott.harris@latimes.com Please include a phone number.

D’Agostino says even the Kentucky state troopers who arrested Rogers “were rooting for us” when authorities there were considering where to send Rogers.


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