Thursday, October 11, 2012

Cop killers, Baby killers, Serial killers? Did Steve Cooley Just Lie on the KQED?

In a debate on KQED's California Report about Proposition 34, LA DA Steve Cooley told a statewide listening audience that only "cop killers, baby killers, and serial killers" get sent to death row from LA County.  Really?  That sounds false to me.  There are well over 700 people on death row and a clear minority of them meet that description, in fact, very few are.  From LA?  In 2009, LA County produced more death sentences then the state of Texas, were there really that many baby killers, cop killers, and serial killers convicted in that year?  I'm in the middle of my teaching week (yes this really is like a job) and don't have time to run this down, but some one reading this, student, reporter, active citizen, nail this down because I don't think its fit for a District Attorney to lie on an important issue of public policy on the radio to the citizens of this state.

Why does Steve Cooley really want the death penalty?  In part, I would guess, because the death penalty is a large weapon in plea bargaining that can force many murder defendants with a credible issue, to plead guilty to a non-capital murder and disappear for life (perhaps for a crime they did not commit).  In Governing through Crime I offered a more political view.  Prosecutors became vengeance-seekers-in-chief during the era of mass incarceration and used that stature to get elected statewide.  The death penalty debate fuels the vengeance end of the crime policy debate (distorting the entire criminal justice system) but providing great fuel for prosecutors to rise to power.  Steve Cooley lost narrowly for AG in 2010 to the current incumbent, a very quiet opponent of the death penalty.  One suspects he would rather be talking about the death penalty in next statewide election too.  Proposition 34 would end that death debate and move Californians on the the serious work of reframing our overheated underperforming penal system.

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