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'Agonies of Punishment'

September 17, 1985

I found it quite ironic that your editorial against the death penalty, "Agonies of Punishment," appeared on the same day (Sept. 1) as the news that the Night Stalker was captured.

If ever there was a case in California that deserved the death penalty, the Night Stalker crimes are that case. And yet we can all predict what will happen in the court cases against the accused suspect.

We are told he is a drifter, without funds, so the courts will supply him with counsel (probably a team of lawyers, based upon the magnitude of his crimes) at great taxpayer expense. His crimes are spread across this entire state, and each community will undoubtedly conduct a separate trial. He will probably plead insanity, with extenuating circumstances of drug abuse, rock music influence and maybe even malnutrition (possibly a reverse Twinkie defense?). And after years of court time and millions of dollars, God knows what the outcome will be.

Just about the only sure bet is that the suspect will not be executed by the State of California.

And when the process is all over (certainly beyond the year 2000, with the appeals process), The Times can sit back and say that justice was served in a humane manner, according to the rules of our modern society.

Well, I, for one, say hogwash. At some point in this century the courts and legal process in this country took a wrong turn. Laws and the courts were originally created to protect society from criminals, and to efficiently determine guilt or innocence and hand out appropriate punishment. Gradually we have lost sight of that mission.

The courts are now overwhelmingly concerned about the rights of the accused--was evidence obtained properly, was procedure followed properly, did the police "slip up"?

Guilt or innocence is no longer the primary concern. The legal process has somehow been transformed into an academic exercise, where the rules and procedures determine the outcome, not the "facts." And timely justice disappeared years ago. Court cases now frequently take years to begin, much less conclude.

And as for punishment, we are now told that prisons are "correctional institutions" where the mission is to give the criminal a second chance. Heaven forbid that we should punish a criminal, especially with a "life for a life."

And what of the victims? They are all but forgotten. In your editorial you mention "cruel and unusual aspects of punishment," the fact that the death sentence "degrades and dehumanizes all who participate." Well what of the Night Stalker victims--those 16 corpses with bullets in their heads, throats slashed, eyes gouged, and the women and children who were terrorized, raped and sodomized? How many families have had their lives destroyed by these crimes? Do not we, as a society, owe thes victims justice? I, for one, feel far more dehumanized reading of the crime than I do reading about the state executing a killer.

What this country needs is a return to the concept of swift and certain justice. If we need more courts, judges and prisons, then so be it. And as for capital punishment, I say let the punishment fit the crime. When criminals behave more like humans, then we can start to treat them more humanely. In the meantime, I would like to see the Night Stalkers of our society swiftly executed rather than coddled by our courts and prisons.

JOHN PEARSON

Toluca Lake

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