Capital Punishment Foes Demonstrate in Santa Ana
Drawing honks of support and hoots of protest from passing motorists, about 20 demonstrators gathered Monday outside Santa Ana’s MainPlace mall to denounce what they describe as the unspeakable brutality of the death penalty.
The focus of their concern was the execution of Thomas M. Thompson, convicted of the 1981 rape and murder of a 20-year-old Laguna Beach woman. Few keeping that vigil held out hope that their effort might help Thompson, 43. Instead, many said, they wanted to draw attention to the immorality and ineffectiveness of the death penalty so that eventually it will be abolished.
“We are calling for an end to the practice of capital punishment in California,” said Father John McAndrew, a Catholic priest who helped organize the rally. “Executions don’t work. They don’t make us safer.”
That sentiment was echoed at the gates of San Quentin prison, where about 100 demonstrators held candles, sang songs and listened to speeches in the hours leading up to the execution.
Some participants said they were encouraged by the protest. “Maybe people are changing their minds about this after all,” said Bryan Uhlenbrock, a Quaker from Oakland.
Proponents of the death penalty too were on hand to argue the other side.
“I believe these people have misplaced compassion,” said Howard Garber, who traveled to the prison from his home in Orange County.
The large majority of those who kept the vigil across the state, however, were opposed to capital punishment.
In Santa Ana, Denise Gragg, an Orange County public defender and longtime activist against capital punishment, said, “I don’t want any person put to death in my name and with my money,” she said. “It will always be the poor, the underclass, the mentally ill and the mentally retarded who are executed.
“The death penalty institutionalizes vengeance, which is a natural emotion but not one the state should be promoting.”
The demonstrators--waving signs bearing such slogans as “Execute Justice, Not People” and “Stop the Killing"--evoked strong reactions from some passing motorists. One yelled, “An eye for an eye.” Another called out, “I love the death penalty!” Others honked and waved in apparent support of the protest.
After the demonstrators had stood at the curb for an hour with their signs, about half of them marched a mile and a half to the plaza in Orange, where they planned to hold a candlelight vigil until Thompson’s execution at San Quentin prison.
For some, the experience was fraught with emotion.
“This has hit me really hard,” said Christy Johnson, 43, a contract administrator from San Juan Capistrano. “What I’m hearing is that there is some question as to the validity of [Thompson’s] conviction. Why would we kill someone if there is some question? California is a pretty scary place these days.”
The impending execution was especially difficult for her, Johnson said tearfully, because her husband is serving a life term for possession of narcotics.
“I see pictures of [Thompson] in his prison blues, and I know what that looks like,” she said. “I’ve seen my husband that way. This hits really close to home.”
For others, the opposition was less personal, though equally heartfelt.
“I have strong feelings about killing people,” said Jeanne Favreau, 46, a teacher from Buena Park. “It’s not what I was taught--we are here to love and not seek vengeance.”
Jennifer Owens, an 18-year-old college student from Cypress, said she opposes capital punishment because it breeds violence and sends a mixed message to young people. “What it says is that it’s all right for the state to use violence but not for them,” she said. “That’s not a positive message.”
Michael P. Giannini, another Orange County public defender, said that he came out to help effect a change in policy.
“The real future of the end to this barbarism is in the hands of the people, not the courts,” said Giannini, 57. “Someday people will realize how wrong it is to kill people for killing--it demeans the public conscience and morality. Only God has the right to take a life.”
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Legal Twists and Turns
Highlights of chronology of Thomas M. Thompson case, provided by state prosecutors.
* Sept. 12, 1981: Ginger Fleischli, 20, is raped and murdered.
* Sept. 14, 1981: Fleischli’s body is found in a grove of trees beside a highway in Irvine.
* Sept. 26, 1981: Thompson is arrested in Mexico.
* Oct. 5, 1983: Thompson’s jury trial begins.
* Nov. 4, 1983: Jury finds Thompson guilty of raping and murdering Fleischli.
* Nov. 17, 1983: Jury recommends death sentence.
* May 5, 1988: California Supreme Court upholds death sentence.
* Nov. 14, 1988: U.S. Supreme Court declines to consider case.
* March 29, 1995: U.S. District Judge Richard Gadbois overturns death sentence by reversing rape conviction, based on ineffective trial counsel; he upholds first-degree murder conviction.
* June 19, 1996: Three-judge panel of 9th Circuit reinstates death sentence.
* June 2, 1997: U.S. Supreme Court declines to review case.
* June 20, 1997: Execution set for Aug. 5, 1997.
* July 29, 1997: Clemency denied by Gov. Pete Wilson.
* Aug. 3, 1997: 9th Circuit recalls previous ruling, reversing rape conviction and overturning death sentence.
* Aug. 4, 1997: U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear case but leaves stay of execution in place.
* April 29, 1998: U.S. Supreme Court reinstates death penalty.
* June 12: Execution set for July 14; Thompson files emergency motion for stay of execution in 9th Circuit.
* July 9: Oral arguments before 9th Circuit.
* July 11: 9th Circuit refuses to halt execution.
* July 13: U.S. Supreme Court once again declines to consider case.
* July 14: Thompson is executed.
Source: Times reports
Four men have been executed in California since the death penalty was reinstated two decades ago:
Name Executed Crime Robert Alton Harris April 21, 1992 Killed two San Diego teenagers David Edwin Mason Aug. 24, 1993 Killed five people William G. Bonin Feb. 23, 1996 Rape, torture and murder of 21 boys and young men Keith Daniel Williams May 3, 1996 Killed three people
Next in Line
Though it is difficult to say who will be executed next, state officials say three men are the most likely candidates:
Bill Bradford: Murdered two young women in 1984. An amateur photographer, he lured them with the promise of getting them jobs as models. At the time of the murders, he had a rape case pending.
Alfred Dyer: Angry about some lost jewelry, Dyer took four people into the hills outside Oakland in 1980 and shot all of them; two survived. Execution date has been scheduled and canceled three times. State and federal judges have upheld the sentence, and the case is now before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
William Kirkpatrick Jr.: Murdered two Taco Bell clerks during a 1983 robbery. Last year, he asked the U.S. Supreme Court to execute him, then changed his mind. Execution was scheduled for Jan. 26 but was postponed pending his appeal.
Lethal Injection Process
Before the injection of lethal drugs, the inmate is connected to a cardiac monitor. An IV is started in two of the inmate’s veins (one is a backup in case of a malfunction). Once the warden issues the execution order, drugs are administered: 1. Sodium Pentothal, a strong anesthetic, makes the inmate lose consciousness.
2. Pancuronium bromide, which paralyzes muscles and lungs, is next.
3. Finally, potassium chloride stops the heart.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1976 that the death penalty is constitutional, there have been 468 executions, a third of them in Texas. How the states rank, 1976 through July 10:
Road to Death Row
On California’s death row, nearly 30% of the 509 inmates are from Los Angeles County. Counties with the most inmates on death row, accounting for about three-fourths of the total:
Los Angeles: 147
San Bernardino: 29
Santa Clara: 27
San Diego: 26
Source: California Department of Corrections, Times reports; Researched by LOIS HOOKER and APRIL JACKSON / Los Angeles Times