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Wednesday, Oct 17 2012 11:00 PM

MANUEL FUDERANAN: Justice, symbolic justice and the authority to impose death

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    Manuel Fuderanan

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The assertion of Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green that "in California no innocent individual in has been executed" is a farcical assumption and a misleading and an irresponsible statement coming from such a high official in our justice system ("Vote no on Prop. 34: Death penalty is the cost of justice," Another View, Oct. 8). In the absence of details in every death penalty case, statistics may bear it otherwise. But to her credit, she is just doing her job and securing her livelihood. She is a prosecutor.

The truth is a court trial in our justice system -- although it may still be the best in the world -- is just a "symbolic" quest for "justice" and nothing else. A court trial is adversarial in nature and not a collaborative effort to seek the truth. It is just a matter of posturing from both sides of the aisle by presenting "solid" or "convincing" arguments intricately woven from facts, theories, and speculations or falsehoods. The discovery process is tainted with doubts and suspicion, and both defense and prosecution and even the cops are, sometimes, guilty of misconduct when they conveniently hide from view exculpatory or incriminating evidence that may be uncovered in the process. Whoever has the greater resources to hire good lawyers and investigators has the better chance of winning a case. Unless our justice system is purged with these human frailties, no jury or judge should render an absolute or ultimate judgment from it -- like what the death penalty is.

Statistics reveals that there are 728 people in death row in California, approximately 25 percent of the nationwide total. Whether all these 728 individuals deserve their judgments, your guess is as good as mine. But the fact is, 141 of them have been exonerated from death row after a lengthy and exhaustive appeals process. Knowing the imperfections in our justice system and the law of averages, a good percentage of them should have been outside the prison walls.

The cost of maintaining these death convicts is expensive because of built-in perks and privileges which are mandated by law, compared with those sentenced to "life without the possibility of parole." Death convicts are entitled to an automatic appeals process, which may last up to 25 years. Some $4 billion has been spent since 1978 for death row with only 13 executions. Housing costs for a death inmate is approximately $150,000 per year, which is $100,000 more than a "life-sentenced" inmate, the annual housing cost of which is pegged at approximately $50,000 per year. Aside from the disparity in housing costs alone, added costs in death row are the result of reinvestigations and retrials in the appeals process.

There is a lot of authenticated stories about innocent people who were wrongly convicted and consigned to death row for many years. A few of them were lucky to get out of the "last mile." A lot of them were not as fortunate, tortured by their numerous final walks to the execution chamber only to be granted a last-minute reprieve. Some months ago, I attended a presentation by an anti-death penalty advocate, Sister Helen Prejean, at St. Philip the Apostle Church. Her two books, "Dead Man Walking" and "The Death of the Innocents," are good reading. They highlight some stories about innocent individuals who undeservingly suffered for crimes attributed to them which they were innocent of. Unfortunately, their death sentences were carried out and consummated -- their lives abruptly, unjustly and arbitrarily terminated.

Granting that our justice system is perfect and truth always comes out of the process, the death penalty is still too harsh and undeserving. It grants no closure or justice to the case, as alleged. On the contrary, it reopens old wounds and reinvigorates vengeance and hatred in one's heart, which are counterproductive and which should have been dormant. It is primordial, barbaric and has been outlawed by almost all of Europe and the advanced, civilized countries.

Even disregarding the "economics" of the death penalty, there is a need to vote "yes" for Proposition 34 and put an end to capital punishment. The ultimate moral authority, the Holy Scriptures, says so in Chapter 20 of the book of Exodus and Chapter 10 of the book of Deuteronomy. The fifth of the Ten Commandments says, "Thou shalt not kill" -- an inclusive edict with no prequalifications or conditions. No human system or human being has the moral ascendancy or authority to render and implement a death penalty verdict. It would be arrogance in its highest order. Only God has that authority.

Manuel D. Fuderanan is an engineer with the city of Bakersfield. Another View presents a critical response to a previous editorial, column or news story.

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