White supremacist gang hit man Billy Joe Johnson got what he asked for from the Orange County jury that convicted him of first-degree murder last month: a death sentence.
It wasn't remorse for his crimes or a desire for atonement that drove him to ask for execution; it was the expectation that conditions on death row would be more comfortable than in other maximum-security prisons and that any date with the executioner would be decades away if it came at all.
Although executions are carried out with comparative speed in states such as Virginia, where Beltway sniper John Allen Muhammad was put to death Tuesday night, capital punishment in California has become so bogged down by legal challenges as to be a nearly empty threat, say experts on both sides of the issue.
"This is a dramatic reaffirmation of what we've already known for some time, that capital punishment in California takes way too long," Kent Scheidegger, legal director for the law-and-order Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in Sacramento, said of Johnson's bet that he will live a long life on death row. "This guy certainly feels like it's worth the risk."
Statistics suggest that Johnson may be correct in his calculations.
California has the nation's largest death row population, with 685 sentenced to die by lethal injection. Yet only 13 executions have been carried out since capital punishment resumed in 1977 and none of the condemned have been put to death since a moratorium was imposed nearly four years ago. Five times as many death row inmates -- 71 -- have died over that same period of natural causes, suicide or inside violence.
Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?
Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.
If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009