Over the Hill

Death penalty does no good for California

Zeke carried four pairs of new cowboy boots. His buddy, Zack, said, “Zeke you must stop buying boots. You keep buying new ones, but you haven’t worn boots for 20 years. They hurt your bunions.”

“I know,” said Zeke, “but buying them makes me feel good.”

“You better stop feeling,” said Zack, “and start thinking.”

Zack would probably also say we Californians better stop feeling good about capital punishment and start thinking about voting “yes” on Prop. 34.

If we pass Prop. 34 in November, it will abolish capital punishment and replace it with life without parole. It will require convicted murderers to work in prison to pay victim-restitution fines. And it will provide four years of grants to police and prosecutors to hasten the solving of murders and rapes.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates ending capital punishment will save $100 million per year at first, and $130 million per year in later years.

Most Californians used to feel good about capital punishment. In 1978, they voted to reinstate the death penalty. Since then, about 900 people have been sentenced to death in California.

But only 14 have been executed, including one executed in Missouri. Eighty-three died in other ways. And courts reduced the sentences of 75.

California still holds 729 condemned prisoners. The last execution was in 2006.

Reinstating the death penalty didn’t make us safer. It didn’t prevent the stabbing murder Aug. 22, 2011, of Robert Uyeno in his room at the Farmhouse Motel in Paso Robles. A woman has been sentenced to 15 years to life for it. Two men are awaiting sentencing. Another man was found mentally incompetent.

The death penalty didn’t protect 15-year-old Dystiny Myers. Her burned, beaten body was found two years ago near Santa Margarita. Four men and a woman are awaiting trial.

It also didn’t shield Jerry Greer, 71, of rural Templeton. In 2009, he was murdered in bed as he slept. He was shot in the head, neck and shoulder. His case remains unsolved.

We’ve also had other killings. If capital punishment can’t protect us, why have it? Some say to be a penalty. But being locked up for life may, in some ways, be a worse penalty. And judges and juries can make mistakes. There’s no way to reverse death to correct their mistakes.

Many people say capital punishment provides “justice,” by which some people mean vengeance. No legitimate government should ever kill a person in cold blood. Calling it “capital punishment” doesn’t justify it.

Phil Dirkx’s column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Paso Robles for more than four decades, and his column appears here every week. Reach Dirkx at 238-2372 or phild2008@sbcglobal.net.