Once again, California Governor Jerry Brown’s permissive criminal justice policies are rearing their ugly heads.
This year the governor has already issued 67 pardons and commutations, including 18 commutations to individuals who have been serving “life without parole” sentences.
One such “life” inmate, a 42-year-old Cambodian living in Fresno, was convicted of the murder of a rival gang member in 1994, and who was facing deportation for being in the country illegally.
Another “lifer”, Harvey Heishman, who had raped an Oakland woman before killing her, did so before she could testify against him in his rape trial.
Another, Richard Samayoa, burglarized the San Diego home of a young mother, killing her and her toddler with a wrench in 1985.
And there is Tiequon Cox, who murdered four family members of former NFL player and death penalty advocate Kermit Alexander in Los Angeles. He, too, received a commutation from Governor Brown.
In 1972, all 111 death row inmates had their sentences reduced to ‘life with the possibility of parole” when the California Supreme Court overturned capital punishment. These so-called “lifers” included convicted assassin, Sirhan Sirhan, infamous “Onion Field” murderer, Gregory Ulas Powell and his accomplice, Jimmy Lee Smith, as well as the Manson Family wholesale killers.
All became eligible for parole after seven years.
Immediately thereafter, the California legislature reinstated the death penalty that same year. And thus began the next collection of the most heinous criminals at San Quentin State Prison.
Then in 1976 the court again overturned capital punishment and another 68 murderers were off death row, only to see the state legislature restore the death penalty once again in 1977.
In 1978, the “Briggs Initiative” added elements to capital crimes, including “life without the possibility of parole” for all “special circumstance” murders. That is, murders committed during the course of another felony such as robbery or rape.
Following my organization’s (Citizens for Truth in Justice) successful efforts to rescind the paroles of Sirhan, Powell and several of the Manson murderers, I drafted a state constitutional amendment for the purpose of taking away the power that Governor Brown is presently using – commuting life without parole sentences to life with parole.
I submitted my amendment to then-Governor, George Deukmejian and was asked to visit Sacramento to discuss it.
When asked why I submitted this amendment to the governor I responded by saying that both the state and federal constitutions forbid ambiguity in the law. However, if a governor and/or state supreme court can commute a sentence of life without the possibility of parole, obvious ambiguity exists. The letter of the law clearly states, life without the possibility of parole, thereby meaning, NO CHANCE FOR PAROLE.
After receiving some support in the state senate, I hit a stone wall in the state assembly which was controlled by the liberal Speaker Willie Brown.
The amendment went nowhere after that.
Governor Brown is the same governor who, in his first stint as governor in the 1970s and early 1980s, had appointed Rose Elizabeth Bird as Chief Justice of the state supreme court. Bird had never served as a judge on any bench, and had never even been a prosecuting attorney.
Chief Justice Bird went on to reverse the sentences of all 61 death penalty cases that came before her court, fueling an effort of which I was involved with current Orange County District Attorney, Tony Rackauckas, to form Californians for a Responsible Supreme Court in late 1981. Our goal was to make certain that Bird and two of her liberal colleagues would not win voter approval in November, 1986, for a new 12-year term on the bench.
Five years and a few million dollars later we were successful in convincing voters to reject all three permissively liberal justices for new terms, something that was never done before nor has since been done in this country.
Moving forward to the present we now have 748 inmates on death row in California, a number that has obviously skyrocketed since our efforts in the 1980s.
Brown is getting help in his effort to pardon and commute from the present California Supreme Court, which on March 28 issued an administrative order that has opened the door for Brown to legally commute the sentences of every inmate on death row.
This, following his infamous “prison realignment”, Prop. 47 and Prop. 57, which reduced numerous felonies to misdemeanors and created early releases for literally tens of thousands of criminals all across the state, all for the purpose of appeasing the most liberal federal court in the nation (the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals) in their demand to reduce prison overcrowding.
In 2013 I wrote a letter to Governor Brown asking which represented a bigger catastrophe, our prisons being overcrowded with these criminals or our cities and neighborhoods, never receiving and answer.
The year I was born, 1952, the entire state of California experienced 260 murders. The year I became involved in criminal justice work, 1980, the state had 3,411 murders, a more than 1300% increase.
We know that the population did not increase 1300% between those years, so who was committing those killings?
Recidivists, repeaters were committing them. And by the time I became involved approximately 52% of the homicides perpetrated in California went unsolved.
In numerous TV debates during the 1980’s and 1990’s I listened to prosecuting attorneys argue that prisons for violent criminals is for the purpose of punishment, while defense attorneys argued on the side of rehabilitation.
However, in these cases of heinous acts of violence my argument was always that punishment was administered for the purpose of rehabilitation. And unless God could come down on this Earth and confirm that one of these individuals is, in fact, rehabilitated, there was no guaranty. In other words, to “punish” them only to release them into society once again, was tantamount to conducting an experiment in our cities and neighborhoods, at our expense.
So, in my analysis, prisons in these violent cases is rather for the purpose of separating the perpetrators from the rest us to enable government to perform its most important function: that of protecting its citizens.
I certainly hope the public pushes back on Governor Brown before he can unleash the havoc and mayhem these violent criminals represent if pardoned and released into our backyards.
Spero News columnist John Mancino is a security professional who resides in Caifornia.