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Don't waste money trying to 'fix' California's fatally flawed death penalty

Don't waste money trying to 'fix' California's fatally flawed death penalty
San Quentin State Prison's lethal injection chamber, completed in 2010, has never been used. (Los Angeles Times)

To the editor: In Kent S. Scheidegger's view, the only problem with the death penalty in California is that it has been sabotaged by lawyers, thereby delaying executions endlessly. ("A better death penalty for California," Opinion, Sept. 29)

The fact that the death penalty is proved to be racially and economically biased is not a problem. The fact that it is more likely that an innocent person with an incompetent lawyer will be sentenced to death than a rich guilty person is not a problem. The fact that the same crime will be punished differently depending on in which county in California the crime is committed is not a problem. The fact that the death penalty costs significantly more money than keeping someone in prison for life is not a problem.

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According to Mr. Scheidegger, this state should spend tens of millions of dollars more a year and hire more lawyers so California can have a "better" death penalty. Is this really how we want to spend our money?

Jennifer Friedman, Los Angeles

The writer is a Los Angeles County public defender.

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To the editor: When a jury has heard and seen the evidence and facts, determines a death sentence in a capital case is appropriate and a judge upholds the verdict and punishment, our legal system has worked exactly as designed.

And I particularly endorse the author's use of "sabotage" when describing why California's current law has not been enforced.

I have an old newspaper clipping about a man in New York convicted of killing a teenage girl. He served 19 years in prison, was released, and killed eight more women. Executed killers cannot kill again — not the innocent, not a prison guard and not another inmate.

Glenn Toth, Playa Del Rey

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To the editor: Proposition 66 will not speed up executions; it will increase costs and more innocents will be executed.

By limiting the state process of reviewing a death sentence to five years, Proposition 66 will simply shift the delays to federal courts. The measure would increase the number of cases in federal court from 60 to 500 in the next six years. Capital cases now pend 10 years or more in federal district court and an additional three to five years in the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. There is nothing Proposition 66 can do to shorten that time.

Requiring unqualified defense counsel to take capital cases will lead to more litigation of ineffective assistance of counsel claims in federal court, lengthening the process and increasing the risk that innocent people are put to death. And the state Legislative Analyst says Proposition 66 will cost tens of millions of dollars per year with future unknown costs to the state.

Marjorie Cohn, San Diego

The writer is a professor emerita at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law.

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