The challenge facing Democratic nominee Michael S. Dukakis in California could be summed up by what occurred Friday at a press conference in Los Angeles.
A victim of brutal crimes by Massachusetts' most famous felon, Willie Horton, told a gruesome story. And the sister of a youth Horton murdered described how her brother was "stabbed 17 times and stuffed into a trash can."
The Dukakis campaign responded with a detailed position paper.
Once again Vice President George Bush is dominating the emotional aspect of campaigning in a state where that has worked in the past.
The event, in which victims recounted their horrors, was reminiscent of those held in 1986 by opponents of then-California Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird. Bird was accused of blocking implementation of the death penalty and ultimately was rejected by the voters in November of that year.
For Friday's press conference, Maryland resident Cliff Barnes was flown in by the Committee for the Presidency, which is spending money on Bush's behalf independently of his campaign.
In 1986, Barnes was beaten and his wife, Angela, was raped by Horton, who was serving a life sentence for the 1974 murder of a 17-year-old Massachusetts youth.
Horton went to Maryland after getting a weekend furlough under a program started before Dukakis became governor of Massachusetts in 1975 but continued in his Administration.
Barnes' complaint Friday was that such furlough programs should not include people like Horton, who was convicted of first-degree murder and given life without possibility of parole. Barnes and others argue that such convicts will be tempted to escape rather than face a life in prison.
The other participant at Friday's press conference was Donna Cuomo, sister of Joey Fournier, the youth Horton murdered in 1974.
Legislature Changed Program
She helped form a group that forced the Massachusetts Legislature to exclude criminals like Horton from the furlough program.
Dukakis approved that change this year, but Cuomo maintains that he should have done it sooner.
"He fought us tooth and nail," Cuomo said. "He has never agreed to meet with us (the Citizens Against an Unsafe Society)."
Barnes said: "My wife and I have never heard from the Dukakis Administration. There has never been even an apology."
Barnes and Cuomo said that they were not being paid fees to make appearances for the Committee for the Presidency but that expenses were being covered.
A young woman working for the Dukakis campaign sat through the press conference and then passed a position paper to reporters as they were leaving.
Among the points noted in the paper were Dukakis' support for the U.S. Victims of Crime Act and his promise to create a National Anti-Crime Council. It also pointed out that he "signed into law legislation creating an evidentiary privilege for confidential communication between counselors and the victims of rape or domestic violence."