California Death Penalty under Harsh Spotlight

By Kamika Dunlap on April 29, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The case of convicted sex offender John Gardner has put the California death penalty under a harsh spotlight. Chelsea King's supporters are among those capital punishment proponents who have grown disillusioned with the state's death penalty.

Many legal experts share their sentiments and say the state's capital punishment system is dysfunctional, the Associated Press reports. Executions have been on hold in California for almost four years, following a federal judge's orders for review and reform of lethal injection procedures. As a result, the death penalty has been viewed by many as an empty threat.

Recently, the decision to forego capital punishment for registered sex offender John Gardner, who pleaded guilty to murdering Chelsea King and another teen girl, has raised issues about the effectiveness of California's capital punishment system.

California has the nation's largest number of death row inmates with a record 700. Florida and Texas follow close behind, with 300 plus inmates each on death row.

As previously discussed, California has several hundred inmates sentenced to die by lethal injection, of which only 13 executions have been carried out since capital punishment resumed in 1977. Comparatively, five times as many death row inmates -- 71 -- have died over that same period of natural causes, suicide, or prison violence.

Some lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union say California's death penalty is an empty threat and the system is broken. Others say with the state's financial woes, California simply cannot afford it.

However, the Department of Corrections is expected to issue long-awaited new protocols soon. But before executions can resume, the new regulations must be approved by state and federal judges.

Gardner agreeing to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence shows that the death sentence in California is a hollow promise, said San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis.


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