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Televised Executions

May 12, 1991

In response to "Let's See If Barbarism Truly Deters," by Richard Moran, and "The Victim Will Not Get Equal Time," by Harriet Salarno (Commentary, May 1):

Moran's article proceeds upon the false premise that the deterrence factor is the rationale employed to justify the death penalty. In California there is no single moral foundation upon which the death penalty rests. In fact, the Penal Code, and the case law interpreting it, prohibits any penalty phase argument and consideration of the deterrence factor.

A jury must consider a series of factors in the death equation that, in part, include the nature of the crime for which the defendant was convicted, the defendant's past criminal history, mitigating mental factors at the time of the crime, and almost anything relevant to the issue of what kind of person the defendant was and is.

Moran states that if the death penalty does not deter then "proponents would be forced to rely on the morally questionable motives of retribution and revenge."

Morally questionable? As a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney who has prosecuted dozens of murder cases and as one who has argued for death on five occasions, I submit there is such a thing as justified, virtuous vengeance. Jurors see situations when a murderer commits unspeakable and obscene acts upon victims.

Murder is not some abstract crime in which a victim is shot, stabbed or bludgeoned only to quietly fall down and die. The following sequence usually occurs to the victim: fear, panic, excruciating pain, regurgitation followed by incontinence, excessive bleeding, immobility and groaning, which is all followed by an autopsy so the exact cause of death can be determined for courtroom proceedings.

It doesn't end there. There is the lifelong grieving of the deceased's loved ones. There is the survivor's guilt at not being there to have eased the deceased's suffering. There is the nightmare of a trial and the technicalities one must endure. There is the sympathy argument the defense lawyer makes for the cold-blooded murderer while the deceased becomes a statistic. And on and on.

HARVEY GISS, Los Angeles

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