District attorneys meet over execution delays


"The saying 'time heals' is nothing more than an old wives' tale," said Patricia Pendergrass, whose brother was killed in 1980. Clarence Ray Allen was given the death penalty for that murder. However, it took 26 years before he was finally executed.

"It's time for California to take the necessary steps to strengthen the death penalty," Pendergrass said.

Pendergrass was among those appearing at a briefing held by the Institute for Advancement of Criminal Justice. It released what it calls "the most comprehensive review of capital punishment in state history." The institute is the research arm of the California District Attorneys Association.

"We now have over 600 individuals currently under sentence of death with their appeals either pending in state courts or pending in our federal courts," said State Court of Appeal Justice James Ardaiz.

"A never-ending appeals process is unfair to those who are seeking justice and it's a mockery of our legal system," said Colusa County District Attorney John Poyner.

The review concludes the system is broken, but that the death penalty works.

"When used correctly, the death penalty is the single greatest deterrent to murder," Poyner said.

The institute also found the death penalty is seldom used in California.

"Even though 942 defendants, for instance in 2006, were convicted of murder, only 16 of them were actually sentenced to death," said Deputy State Attorney General Ward Campbell.

The ACLU monitored the news conference. The group opposes capital punishment. They agree the system is broken, but they say the solution is to give the worst offenders life without parole.

"If we were to make that change in our law, we'd save hundreds of millions of dollars. Money that we can then invest in solving all of the unsolved murders in California," said ACLU's Natasha Minsker.

The district attorneys say bills that wold have addressed many of the issues they raised have failed in the Legislature. So they plan to go directly to the voters by sponsoring ballot measures in the 2010 election.

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