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We need all kinds of punishment — including the death penalty — to deter all kinds of killers

We need all kinds of punishment — including the death penalty — to deter all kinds of killers
California's lethal injection chamber at San Quentin State Prison in 2010. (Eric Risberg / Associated Press)

To the editor: When humans lived in caves, the tribal chief would serve as the group’s executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. His task was great: to dispense punishment in a way that would preserve the tribe. He quickly reasoned that if murder was not effectively deterred, the tribe would not long exist.

Times have changed, but the basic dynamics have not. The only difference is that there are a lot of murderers who value the ability to kill over keeping their own lives and would be happy to die quickly. For them, the prospect of life imprisonment is an absolute nightmare.

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For this reason, all punishments, including life imprisonment without parole as well as the death penalty, must remain on the books. We must try to deter every possible killer.

Ignored in this editorial, which asks outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown and his successor Gavin Newsom to work together to abolish the death penalty, is that our focus must be on saving the lives of all potential victims. We must protect potential victims whose killers fear either execution the most or life imprisonment. Neither punishment should be abolished.

The goal is deterrence, not punishment.

Robert S. Henry, San Gabriel

The writer is a retired capital case coordinator with the California attorney general’s office.

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To the editor: In addition to the excellent reasons in your editorial to abolish capital punishment, there is yet another reason that was not mentioned: the devastating effect a death sentence has on the people involved.

Imagine living, almost always for many years, with the possibility that your relative may eventually be executed. Sometimes even the families of the victims protest against the death penalty.

Instead, why can’t we have a less bloodthirsty but very severe (and more immediate) punishment for convicted murderers? The possibility of life imprisonment with no hope of parole — with solitary confinement and no amenities such as television — might be more of a deterrent to would-be killers than the death penalty.

Jan Kelley, Studio City

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