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Ease Parole Line, Gov. Davis

July 31, 2002

Gov. Gray Davis has little to gain and much to lose by paroling murderers. The political risk is obvious: He would look insensitive to victims' families. If the parolee later hurt someone, Davis would become a target for political rivals, as 1988 presidential candidate Michael S. Dukakis did when he was hammered by Al Gore and, later, the elder George Bush over the Willie Horton release.

All that Davis stands to gain by paroling a truly deserving convict is a measure of integrity and courage.

In the case of David Ramos, a model prisoner convicted of driving his brother-in-law to a murder scene, society too stands to gain if the governor reverses his decision to keep this man behind bars. And releasing Ramos may motivate inmates wondering about the merits of good behavior in prison.

In 1988, angered by the release of a murderer and rapist named William Archie Fan, then-Gov. George Deukmejian pushed for Proposition 89, a measure allowing governors to reject parole board decisions. Voters gave it to him and future governors.

No doubt parole boards have been conned by teary-eyed sociopaths who swear they've gone straight. And fed-up voters obviously meant to give new power to the governor with Proposition 89; there's something to be said for the state's chief executive having the discretion to override the occasional poor decision by a parole board. What is wrong is for a governor to be so frightened of backlash that he refuses to exercise judgment.

Davis, as calculating a politician as the state has seen, has rejected 108 out of 110 cases before him. That's a harsher record than that of predecessor Pete Wilson, who, no softie on crime, allowed 25 convicted murderers to go free after the passage of Proposition 89.

As staff writer Jennifer Warren reported Monday in The Times, Ramos had no criminal record, was attending night school and had just enlisted in the Army at age 19 when the crime was committed. He did not wield a weapon. The person who hired the gunman did not implicate Ramos, and a witness testified that Ramos was not present when the crime was plotted. The public defender admits having put up a poor defense in court.

Ramos has taken full responsibility for his actions. His 21-year prison record is nearly perfect. He was credited with heroism for rescuing a supervisor who fell into an excavation hole. He earned a college degree and won honors for teaching more than 1,000 fellow prisoners to read.

Davis should ask the parole board to rehear Ramos' case, and then the governor should follow the panel's recommendation for release. Unless rehabilitation is recognized, what is the use in seeking redemption?

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