Public Comment

Can Californians Afford 18 Scheduled Executions In A Row?

Stephen Cooper
Thursday May 12, 2016 - 01:20:00 PM

On January 15, the Contra Costa Times reported on a new poll showing that "48 percent of registered voters would support proposals to accelerate" executions in California. One of many reasons these voters may want to reconsider: Cold hard cash starting with the "$718,632 for 18 executions in addition to unspecified fees" the L.A. Times reports (in a May 10, 2016 article) such a move would cost the already financially-burdened state.

Add to this the fact that on its website, the California Travel and Tourism Commission notes that California had 16.5 million "international person-trips" in 2014, and of that number, 686K came from the UK, 445K from France, and 439K from Germany. And so, in addition to the already well-documented costs of capital punishment in California—on our morals, our judicial system and on our taxes—do we as Californians really want to ramp executions up when we risk offending, even alienating, so many potential new and return European tourists (even the Pope)?

If we don't care so much about what they think of our refusal to, as the New York Times Editorial Board wrote, "join the rest of the civilized world and end the death penalty," don't we at least want their dollars? 


We already know how much Europeans hate the death penalty by their refusal to ship us lethal injection drugs, but what would happen if the 18 people who have exhausted all their state and federal appeals—out of California's massive death row population of close to 750 souls—started having their execution dates set like wildfire? Are Californians prepared to stomach the steady drumbeat of publicized death that would result, with the possibility, each time, of a gruesome botch, like the infamous Oklahoma execution of Clayton Lockett on April 29, 2014. Called "deeply troubling" by President Obama and generating an avalanche of negative press abroad, reporters witnessing the execution said Lockett "writhed, groaned, and convulsed" taking 43 minutes to die. Imagine 18 potential Lockett-like executions lined up like ducks over the course of a fiscal year . . . . How much negative publicity would California see as a result? 

How much condemnation from foreign countries would we reap—countries whose tourism dollars our fragile economy depends upon? Just recently, after Saudi Arabia executed 47 prisoners, it was reported on January 15 by Eve Hartley of the Huffington Post that "the brutal Saudi justice system [had] strain[ed] relations between" Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom. 

Before Californians head out to the polls in November, they ought to look real hard—not only at the very many good reasons already advanced to end the death penalty—but also, in our wallets; is there really so much green in there that accelerating—instead of ending the death penalty—is worth it? 


Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015 litigating death penalty cases in postconviction. Since then he has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California.