A small contingent of people gathered at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse Friday to rally against the death penalty and capital punishment executions. Members of the group Walk to Stop Executions are on an 800-mile walk from San Diego to Sacramento to get the attention of district attorneys in 15 counties throughout the state, asking them to move toward life without parole sentencing rather than the death sentence.
California has the highest rate of death sentencing in the country, and there are currently 667 inmates on death row. There were 53 executions carried out in the United States in 2006. There have been none in the past 19 months in California because of a moratorium due to the case of Michael Morales, a convicted murderer who was supposed to be executed in February 2006 in which the constitutionality of lethal injection procedures has been challenged. Nationally, the annual number of executions is the lowest it’s been in a decade because the U.S. Supreme Court has decided to review the constitutionality of lethal injection procedures.
There are currently eight inmates on death row who were prosecuted by Santa Barbara County, according to District Attorney Christie Stanley. Two additional inmates on a Department of Corrections list are credited to the county, but one was because a change of venue and another technically belongs to another county. There is one pending case – against Jesse James Hollywood – in which capital punishment is being sought. The most recent inmate to head into the Department of Corrections’ death row from Santa Barbara is Joshua Miracle, convicted in 2006 for murder.
Lethal injections have begun to take about 30 minutes to kill the inmate, according to James Robertson, the ACLU ombudsman at the Santa Barbara County Jail who was at the courthouse Friday lending his support. The body is paralyzed by the injection, he explained. “Nobody can tell if this person is in pain,” he said.
There are many reasons why prosecutors and police may have a “vested interest” in seeking the death penalty, the group explained. It makes it easier to fight crime, those present Friday said, and is a popular choice with the public, which helps district attorneys get re-elected for being tough on crime. “We want prosecutors to ably represent the state, but sometimes they go too far,” Robertson said. And despite it being a popular choice with the public, Richard Carlburg, the California State Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator at Amnesty International, said the best option should be chosen, not how a poll reads. “It’s not just public opinion polls we should look at,” Carlburg said. “It’s what is best for society.
When asked of her feelings on capital punishment, Stanley explained that when she was elected district attorney, she took an oath to uphold the constitution of the state, which, currently, includes the option to pursue capital punishment “under specific and limited circumstances.” Her office will take into account everything about a case when making the decision to pursue capital punishment. “We have been quite selective in cases,” she said. “We don’t just willy-nilly choose to select that punishment.”
Carlburg and Jeff Ghelardi are the two walking up the state to Sacramento. On a good day, the two will split time walking 25 to 30 miles, while on bad days the two only get five miles in. The two stopped in Ventura a few days ago, and the next stop on their journey is San Luis Obispo. The two plan to be in Sacramento by the end of November. They were joined by a few other people, who gathered to listen to the duo’s message, as well as participate in a prayer.