Death sentence in California more often a life sentence

Ronald Harold Seaton — sentenced to California’s death row in 1989 for murder — drew his last breath this past September.

It was not because the 69-year-old inmate at San Quentin State Prison died of a court-approved lethal injection. Rather, he succumbed to natural causes.

Indeed, Seaton was but the latest of nearly 70 death row inmates to die of natural causes since California reinstated the death penalty in 1978. Nearly 750 condemned inmates currently await dates with the executioner.

Seaton’s gentle passage into the hereafter comes to mind as this month marks 10 years since the last time someone was actually put to death in the Golden State.

That’s because in 2006, a federal judge ruled that the three-drug lethal injection employed by the state’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation exposed condemned inmates to unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment.

Ten years later, the DCR has yet to propose a new protocol that satisfies the court. And while the state this past November proposed a single-drug lethal injection, we do not foresee San Quentin’s death chamber getting much use anytime soon.

And neither do most of the inmates biding their time on death row. Like double-murderer Charles Crawford, convicted in 2002.

“It’s like it’s not even a real punishment for a lot of people,” said Crawford, who spoke to reporters during a recent press tour of San Quentin’s death row.

The public is starting to recognize that as well. That is why a third of California registered voters in 2014 favored doing away with the death penalty, according to a Field poll. That was the highest level in more than 40 years.

We don’t think Californians have gotten soft in recent years on murder with special circumstances, but that they have wearied of the 20-plus years it takes for death sentences to be carried out.

That’s why an increasing number of former death penalty supporters favor instead life sentences without parole for capital crimes. It does not satisfy desires for vengeance the way execution does. But it does satisfy those who value truth in sentencing.

Reprinted from the Orange County Register

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