EDITORIAL: The death penalty question

May 4, 2014 

Shown is the view a condemned inmate would have from a table inside the death chamber of the lethal injection facility at San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, Calif., Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2010.


Clayton Lockett's execution was botched Tuesday night in Oklahoma. He writhed, gasped and apparently died of a heart attack roughly 40 minutes after the drugs that were supposed to kill him were administered.

Lockett's crimes included burying his victim alive. He deserves no sympathy. But Oklahoma's inability to properly carry out the execution, and its refusal to identify the drugs it used, reopens the national debate over capital punishment.

Despite the obvious problems in Oklahoma, we support the death penalty. You need only to remember the notorious case of Clarence Ray Allen to know that imprisonment does not always make society safe.

From his prison cell, where he was serving a life sentence for ordering the murder of a 17-year-old girl, Allen sent former prison buddy Billy Ray Hamilton to kill Bryon Schletewitz, 27, whose testimony had helped convict Allen.

Using a single-shot shotgun, Hamilton executed Schletewitz at his parent's business, Fran's Market, east of Fresno in 1980. Also murdered: clerks Josephine Rocha, 17, and Douglas White, 18.

Allen was a manipulative predator and a merchant of death. He lived longer on death row than all but one of his victims lived on earth. Allen, was 76 when he died by lethal injection at San Quentin on Jan. 17, 2006.

California hasn't executed anyone since because a federal judge concluded that the state's lethal drug concoction did not comply with the constitutional prohibition against cruel and usual punishment.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation supposedly is developing regulations for a single lethal drug protocol. But Gov. Jerry Brown, who opposes capital punishment, clearly is not pushing his department to complete the effort expeditiously, and that is wrong.

Because of Brown's foot dragging, California's condemned population has grown to 745. Meanwhile, California voters have stated clearly that the death penalty should be part of our justice system. In 2012, they rejected Proposition 34, which would have abolished the death penalty.

Today we reaffirm what we said in 2012 in speaking against Proposition 34:

"We agree that the death penalty is flawed and the almost unlimited appeals make it very expensive.

"But instead of throwing out the death penalty, let's fix the problems in how it is administered.

"Make no mistake. We believe those sentenced to death must have every opportunity to appeal their cases, and the state is obligated to ensure that justice is being served by carrying out the death sentence. But this can be done in a few years. Justice is not served by delaying the death penalty by two decades or more.

"It is unfair to the families of victims to have an appeals process that often is aimed at delaying the death penalty rather than seeing that justice is served.

"The problems in administering California's death penalty must be resolved."

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