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Death Row Lawyers

April 06, 1988

In response to Myrna Oliver's article "Death Row: Few Lawyers for Big Task," Part I, March 21:

As a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney who regularly prosecutes capital cases, I was shocked at the paltry sums that are expended in certain states other than California to compensate those lawyers appointed to defend capital cases. The one premise that does justify state executions (philosophy aside) is that the condemned murderer has had a legitimate trial. In California this means two skilled defense lawyers, a private investigator, and any experts needed together with state funds to pay the bill. Anything less is unacceptable.

I am not happy to see my California court-appointed adversaries earn two to three times what I do on the same trial, but I can change sides whenever money supersedes my philosophical views about my employment. In my last capital case my chief adversary was earning $160,000 a year (to my $76,000 plus benefits) exclusive of expenses for investigators, travel and expert witnesses. However, after the defendant was convicted I felt comfortable in the belief that no one could claim the defendant was "railroaded" by the state.

No self-respecting prosecutor or citizen advocate of the death penalty should expect to see a defendant, convicted of murder with special circumstances, die in the gas chamber unless that defendant is ably defended.

$600 for a complete defense? Unbelievable! No competent, conscientious defense lawyer would even permit himself to be a party to such a conspiracy, because at the outset no lawyer can tell how involved and how complicated a case will become. Justice is expensive, but vigilante executions cost society even more.


Deputy District Attorney

Los Angeles

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