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Wilson Swings Through O.C. to Push Anti-Crime Ideas : Politics: Governor criticizes Legislature for not passing death penalty law for carjackings and drive-by shootings, tells rape victims he supports 'one strike' bill.

March 29, 1994|GEBE MARTINEZ | TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

LAGUNA HILLS — Adding his voice to the outrage over the carjacking and murder of two teen-age college students from Japan, Gov. Pete Wilson on Monday urged the state Legislature to reconsider a law calling for the death penalty for those who commit murder during a carjacking.

During one of two speeches in Orange County to push his anti-crime package, Wilson criticized the Legislature for failing last year to pass the death penalty law for carjackings and drive-by shootings.

"This morning, I asked the Legislature, 'Don't let this crime, this latest crime, go unavenged. To the extent that you do not respond, you encourage other thugs to do the same thing,' " Wilson told members of South Orange County chambers of commerce.

Earlier in the day, following a private session with about 20 Orange County women who had been victims of rape or child molestation, Wilson again urged passage of a "one strike and you're out" bill that would put first-time rapists and child molesters in prison for life.

Wilson has effectively made repeat offenders of violent crimes the symbols of his anti-crime agenda that has recently highlighted his reelection campaign.

After becoming the object of scorn of Modoc County residents who protested the release of serial rapist Melvin Carter, Wilson has attempted to turn the episode to political advantage, using that case and others to demonstrate the need for tougher sentencing laws.

But the "one strike" bill, sponsored by state Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach), has run into criticism from a variety of sources--including some women political activists--because of fear that its severity might make district attorneys more reluctant to prosecute rape cases.

"The problem hasn't been (that) prosecutors have been unable to get convictions," Wilson said following the meeting with crime victims in the city of Orange. "The problem has been that once they got the convictions, you had someone who was an animal who was out on the streets again in less than five years. It's been the law that has been at fault and it's the law that has to be changed."

The "one strike" bill was applauded by the crime victims who met with Wilson.

The women said in interviews following the governor's speech that while rapists can be paroled early because of good behavior under the current law, the victims must live with the memory of the attack for the rest of their lives.

"That never leaves you," said an Orange County woman, 56.

A 25-year-old rape victim said she wished the "one strike" law had been in place before she was attacked.

"I was the (assailant's) third victim," she said. "If he would have been put away, I would have never happened, nor the girl before me."

But while the governor championed legislation requiring longer prison terms, he sidestepped questions about how to pay for construction of extra prison space that the mandatory life sentences would require.

He said simply that society would pay a higher price if life sentences were not mandated.

"You tell me what price we should put--what value we should put--on preventing this kind of harm to the women I met with this morning," Wilson said.

During his speech before the South County business and community leaders, Wilson also discussed other anti-crime measures he supports, including one that would require anyone over the age of 14 who commits a violent crime to be prosecuted as an adult. The current minimum age is 16.

Wilson also offered condolences to the parents of the students from Japan who were killed during the weekend carjacking in San Pedro.

"Over the weekend, we were embarrassed as well as shocked that up in a pleasant seaside community--San Pedro--we witnessed another vicious crime . . . part of a brutal carjacking," Wilson said. "Today, our prayers and sympathy are with the parents of the two boys, whose dreams of an education in America have been shattered by some thugs who took their lives to steal their car."

He added: "We also have got to say that that is simply not acceptable. We have got to take a stand. We have got to say that a civilized society doesn't allow this kind of thing to happen. We have to enact laws that are tough enough to combat the sick and twisted minds who would commit that kind of an atrocity."

The governor said no community in the state is safe from crime.

"We need to give brutal killers the death penalty that they deserve," he said.

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