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Defending Tom Edwards

December 20, 1987

Dr. Kenneth Deck's letter (Dec. 6) regarding my defense of and comments about condemned killer Tom Edwards has troubled me greatly. I have never stated publicly that Edwards could be rehabilitated. To the contrary, I told both judge and jury in two of his three trials that he had unfortunately forfeited his right to live in an open society and that life without the possibility of parole was the appropriate sentence.

This in no way attenuates my moral belief that the death penalty is too severe for Edwards in particular, because it is too severe for anyone . I know it is considered temperate for defense lawyers today to aver that the death penalty is appropriate in some cases but not for their client.


In a society that claims leadership in human values, it is hypocritical to preach pro-life at home, anti-apartheid to South Africa, religious freedom to the U.S.S.R., democracy to Haiti, while we have the largest Death Rows in the free world. If life is sacred, all life is sacred: the life of Vanessa Iberri that Deck tried to save in the trauma room, the life of Edwards that I tried to save in the courtroom.

Deck's speculation about the victim being my child (I have three daughters) is merely rhetoric looking for an excuse to revert to the savage code, "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth."

I don't pretend to know my feelings if my child were murdered. However, I do know that if victims' families and friends alone determine punishment, we are all doomed to gum our food in sightless atavism.

My gravest concern is Deck's professional insularism. When he told of Vanessa's grandmother trying to strangle him, I felt welling compassion for him trying to practice his profession in the most difficult of circumstances.

Does he not realize that my oath as a lawyer to defend my client is as compelling to me as his medical oath is to him?

Knowing that millions of Californians share a need to shed blood in the name of justice gives me the same discomfiture as remembering that millions of Germans voted for a short corporal who would "get rid of some of those people so we can all be safe."

Brutality diminishes a people, regardless of slogan.


Assistant Public Defender

County of Orange

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