Suicide illuminates death row insanity

Typically I avoid dark stories involving killing and crime. After all, why fill my head with all those negative vibes?

But this story is worth discussing. James Lee Crummel, a death row inmate at San Quentin, hanged himself in his cell last month nearly eight years after his conviction for abducting, sexually abusing, and killing a 13-year-old boy in 1979.

That’s all the background you need to read to understand the problem here. Look at the time delay. Nearly eight years after the conviction — and 33 since the crime itself — and the appeals process was still far from over.

California’s average death-row appeal takes 20 years. The additional annual cost of $90,000 per inmate just to keep them in prison doesn’t even include thousands more spent in the courts. With a nation’s largest death-row population at 723, the state needlessly spends tens of millions of dollars on extra-secure death row lockdown.

And for what?  Since the death penalty was reinstated by the Supreme Court in 1978, California has executed just 13 of its hundreds of death-row prisoners. Compare that to the number that have committed suicide — 20 — and the number who have died of natural causes — 57 — and you have to wonder why we still allow this economically imbecilic practice to continue.

And that’s to say nothing of any moral implications, or the many wrongful convictions that happen each year, which I’ll leave it to you and your conscience to sort out.

Given the economic and societal factors, it’s no surprise that states are abolishing or moving toward abolishing the death penalty.

An initiative has qualified for the November election — titled the SAFE California Act — that would convert death sentences to life in prison without parole and redistribute $100 million spent on death row back toward solving stubborn murder and rape cases. Not unlike the choice New Jersey made in 2007.

Still, there’s a long way to go when the de facto mindset of our legal system is that it’s a good idea to spend millions of dollars on 20 years of appeals for a minuscule chance of actually seeing that murderer put to death.  It’s time to wake up and see this clearly.