Your son and his 16-year-old best friend are celebrating the fact he just got his driver’s license.
To do so, they spend the day fishing. On their way home, they grab a couple of hamburgers and are eating them in their Ford LTD in a supermarket parking lot when they have a chance encounter with one Robert Alton Harris.
Harris had just gotten out of prison five months early after serving three years for a manslaughter conviction for beating his brother’s roommate to death without any provocation. He just felt like doing it.
Harris is kidnapping your son and his friend at gunpoint. He plans to use the vehicle to rob a bank. After promising them no one was going to die, he drives them to a remote lake, orders them to start walking. When they realize he’s still pointing a gun at them, they beg for their lives. He laughs then shoots them. And then he finishes off their half-eaten hamburgers. We know this because Harris bragged about the killing and how he had the boys begging for their lives.
Harris was executed in 1992.
Robert Jackson Thompson was paroled four months earlier for molesting a 14-year-old boy at knifepoint when your 12-year-old son knocks on his door to collect for the Orange County Register in August of 1981.
Your son’s hogtied and gagged body was found days later. He had been repeatedly raped. Thompson argued he didn’t kill your son and that he actually had killed himself because he struggled against his bonds and chocked to death. Thompson was sentenced to die but succumbed to natural causes in 2006 at age 60.
Your daughter, son-in-law, and 6-year-old granddaughter were sleeping peacefully in their own home. Sometime during the night they met Richard Ramirez- a man (if that’s what you want to call him) eventually convicted of 13 murders, 5 attempted murders, 11 sexual assaults, and 14 burglaries. He was suspected in many more murders.
Convicted in 1989, Ramirez sits on Death Row awaiting his fate.
There are 729 murderers on Death Row in California. None of the men - and women - got there by your garden variety murders. Many had been convicted of killing before, served a term that was reduced and then got out to kill again. Others had multiple victims on multiple occasions. Others employed extreme debauchery in how they abducted, tortured, raped and killed their victims - with a few even videotaping the mayhem such as Charles Ng in his Calaveras County bunker.
On Nov. 6, backers of Proposition 34 want you to do away with the death penalty. Their argument this time is that it is too costly and that life in prison without a chance of parole is much less expensive.
They cite research by a law professor and judge - both who happened to be against the death penalty - that contends California has spent $4 billion over the past 23 years to execute 13 people. Beside the fact critics say that figure is grossly inflated and point to studies in other states that put the difference between life without parole and the death penalty prisons at 21 percent or less, there is one major flaw in their argument.
The high cost of the death penalty is reflected in the endless appeals. Do you really think that the costly appeals will end simply because the 729 murderers get their sentences commuted to life without parole or that their future cellmates in San Quentin will simply not appeal their convictions constantly if the death penalty is eliminated?
There is absolutely no guarantee that anyone of the 729 Death Row residents - or anyone in the future who would qualify for the same draconian sentence - will never walk among us again. If you doubt that consider the case of Richard Alton Harris who had four years cut off his sentence just in time to kill two boys.
Today the death penalty is the cause du jour of those who are against cruel and unusual punishment. Next it’s will be life without parole. We will simply continue to cheapen the value of the lives of innocent victims
If you doubt that, consider the case of Andres Breiviki. He’s the guy that blew up a federal building in downtown Oslo and then made his way to an island where a teen camp was underway. In all, he was convicted of murdering 77 people. Earlier this year he got the maximum sentence allowed in Norway - 21 years in prison.
The best ways to guarantee a future Richard Ramirez isn’t free to kill again after 21 years is to vote no on Proposition 34.
The death penalty most certainly does reduce murders since those on Death Row aren’t free to murder again whether they are put to the death they so richly deserve or die while awaiting their fate.
This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209-249-3519.