To die for

The state of California has been on a killing binge.

Stanley “Tookie” Williams was executed in December. Clarence Ray Allen was put to death in mid-January. And Michael Morales was set to be flat-lined last month, but things were put on hold temporarily for reasons having to do with medical ethics. But it seems certain that Morales ultimately will be killed, that the state then will move on to the next condemned inmate and then the next.

This grim execution process has been moving forward despite the fact that last year, the state Senate created something called the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice. This commission’s job is to examine the ample evidence that there have been wrongful convictions and executions in the state and then report back to the Legislature by December 31, 2007.

A bit of that evidence: First off, using mostly DNA evidence, 122 inmates on death row across the country have proved they were wrongfully convicted and have been released. In California, six wrongfully convicted people have been released from death row already. Clearly, something is wrong with a criminal-justice system in which this occurs.

Secondly, there is abundant evidence that race and poverty play a real factor in who does and doesn’t get the death penalty. Two out of every three death sentences in California are reversed on appeal, and an inadequate, low-quality defense is usually cited as a key reason for the reversal. Also disturbing is the fact that a person whose victim is white is three times more likely to go to death row than one whose victim is black.

Given all of the above, it’s too bad the state can’t stop the killing—at least until the commission has a chance to do its work and makes its recommendations.

Now back to Morales. There is no mistaking the fact that this man committed the brutal murder of Terri Winchell. Morales is a killer and should be locked up for life.

But the circumstances that led to his being given a death sentence, instead of life with no chance of parole, are utterly suspect. See Stephen James’ compelling story “The conversion of Judge McGrath” and consider the layers of truth the judge has seen revealed regarding the state’s execution process.