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Charles Manson and the Death Penalty

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Yesterday, in a bizarre ritual, Charles Manson came up for parole again.  To no one's surprise, he was turned down again.  The exercise highlights the travesty of justice that occurred the last time the death penalty was abolished in California.

In 1971, Manson received a thoroughly deserved sentence of death. The next year, the California Supreme Court misconstrued the state's constitution to prohibit the death penalty -- despite the fact that the state's original constitutional convention had expressly decided the precise question the other way and the relevant language had been carried over unchanged in subsequent revisions. (People v. Anderson, 6 Cal.3d 628 (1972).) A few months later, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all remaining capital sentencing laws in the country -- despite the fact it had carefully considered and rejected essentially the same claim the year before in a California case. (Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972); McGautha v. California, 402 U.S. 183 (1971).)

Manson's sentence was changed to life in prison, and at the time life with possibility of parole was the only legal alternative. The spectacle of these periodic hearings serves only to highlight the travesty of justice, and it would be a travesty with or without the hearings.

Manson is allowed to live out his natural life. He is able to network with his fan base on his smuggled cell phone. This simply is not sufficient punishment for the horrific crimes he committed.

California's death row today holds some killers whose evilness is in the same league with Manson. There is Richard Ramirez, the Night Stalker, convicted of 13 murders, 5 attempts, and 11 sexual assaults. There is David Carpenter, the Trailside Killer, convicted of nine murders in two separate trials.

The question before the people of California this November is whether we will commit the same travesty of justice in these cases and many others as the courts committed in the Manson case.

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