Last November Californians narrowly defeated (52-48 percent) a proposition that would have abolished the state’s death penalty. Riverside County, like most inland regions, voted more decisively (62-38) against the measure.
Dennis Fink Stanworth is one reason folks who aren’t entertainers with personal bodyguards or wealthy liberals living in gated coastal communities tend to favor the death sentence for first degree and especially “special circumstances” murders.
The seventy-year-old Stanworth recently confessed to killing his own mother in Vallejo. In 1966 a much younger Stanworth raped and killed two girls, ages 14 and 15. For these crimes he was sentenced to death. Three years later the State Supreme Court set aside that sentence despite the defendant’s insistence that he deserved to be executed.
A second jury invoked the death penalty for Stanworth in 1974, only to have their judgment again overridden by the state’s highest court. This time those black-robed demigods ruled that California’s death penalty constituted “cruel and unusual punishment” and reduced Stanworth’s sentence to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
In 1990 this double murderer with four other rapes on his rap sheet was released on parole. Three years later parole oversight ended, and he was only required to register as a sex offender.
At the recent arraignment for his mother’s murder Stanworth exclaimed, “It’s the third time. I plead guilty to everything.” Stanworth isn’t the only murderer sentenced to death that’s been released from prison and murdered again, but he is the most recent—as far as we know.
Opponents of the death penalty often raise the possibility that an innocent person might be executed—totally ignoring the killed-by-released-murderers side of the equation.
Proposition 34 supporters (who outspent opponents by a 20 to 1 ratio) also argued that death penalty cases are much more expensive than non-capital cases. They failed to note, of course, that capital trials and appeals are costly precisely because of legal redundancies that are multiplied by the same folks who cite money as a reason to abolish executions.
Currently the existence of a “life in prison without the possibility of parole” punishment makes it unlikely that today’s double-murderers will be released from prison. But the constant agitation for penal leniency by reformers for whom victims quickly become bloodless abstractions should give pause to anyone who thinks California’s no-parole prison sentences (like Stanworth’s two death sentences) are written in stone.
The myopic mindset of the most ardent bleeding hearts is reflected in the astounding sentence given to Norway’s recent murderer of 77 human beings—twenty-one years. That’s 100 days for each life snuffed out by Anders Breivik.