May 15, 2002


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talkback...

Fazio sees the light

As a former prosecutor who has been involved in several death penalty cases, I have reached many of the same conclusions presented in A.C. Thompson's recent article, and I now believe the death penalty serves no legal, deterrent, or moral purpose ["Is It Worth $3 Million to Kill This Man?," 4/24/02]. Here are some of the conclusions I have reached:

1. Undoubtedly the expenses incurred by the state in attempting to execute a convicted murderer are far greater than the costs of sending him/her to prison for life. The costs of retrying and attempting to execute Cary Stayner amount to an outrageous scandal, as Thompson pointed out.

2. I believe extensive studies of violent criminals have proven conclusively that the death penalty does not deter violent crime.

3. Modern science, primarily DNA-based evidence, has uncovered an alarming number of innocent people unjustly convicted and sentenced to die. Society can commit no greater injustice than putting an innocent person to death.

4. While victims' families may seek vengeance in their quest for personal closure, vengeance never can be the policy of a truly civilized society.

5. The death penalty is not applied consistently or equitably – not only on the basis of sex, race, and age, but also depending on the state or even the county within the state.

6. The death penalty does not provide the closure sought by both victims' families and society. Death penalty appeals take many years and even decades, and as execution dates approach, old wounds reopen.

I have concluded that life without the possibility of parole is the appropriate penalty for the most serious violent crimes. LWOPP is just that: a person so sentenced never is considered for release, and no one sentenced to LWOPP ever has been released. They disappear into the prison system, locked forever in a cell the size of a small bathroom, until they die. Most people would consider this a fate worse than a quick and painless death in the glare of media attention. Plus society retains the opportunity to free a truly innocent person if subsequent evidence warrants it.

As a former prosecutor, and now as a defense attorney, I always have felt that one of the most effective arguments to present to a jury against imposing the death penalty has been: "By your verdict of first-degree murder with special circumstances, the defendant will die in prison. The only question is, do we have to kill him?" I think not.

Bill Fazio San Francisco

Problems with HOPE

"Beyond HOPE," by Tom Wetzel, in your May 1 issue, focused on alternative home ownership. The Community Land Trust Collaborative is offering an alternative plan for home ownership that not only removes rental units that are purchased, but also will remove rent-controlled units from the rental market. Not everyone who rents can afford to buy at any price.

This opinion also misrepresents HOPE, Tony Hall's proposed legislation that converts rental units into condominiums. Under HOPE, a tenant who cannot afford to buy and wants to continue to rent can do so. In a rent-controlled building, that apartment remains under rent control as long as that tenant remains; however, when that tenant moves, the unit permanently loses its rent-controlled status, and the landlord can either sell it or continue to rent it without rent control.

What the collaborative and HOPE are proposing not only removes rental units from the market, but they are an indirect way of eliminating rent control.

Steph Feiring San Francisco

Tom Wetzel responds: Feiring fails to divulge where my characterization of HOPE is mistaken. The collaborative's proposal is that the offering price for renters buying their apartments must be affordable at their actual income level. Thus renters at all income levels could become owners. The community land trust proposal will strengthen rent control. Putting a large block of apartments under permanent price restraints would exert a downward pressure against housing inflation. Also, state law bans "vacancy control"; landlords are allowed to raise rents to market rate when tenants move. The CLT proposal implements "vacancy control" legally through permanent restrictions on resale price.

Sir Paul chews carrots

China Martens wonders "who else besides the Super Furry Animals would feature Sir Paul McCartney rhythmically crunching veggies...?" [8 Days a Week, 5/1/02]. Well, the Beach Boys had the peerless Paul chewing carrots for "Vegetables," one of their "Smile" sessions way back in 1967. Too bad this organic alternative to the drum machine never quite caught on with mainstream popular music.

David Finley Pacifica

For the record

In "True Glitter," in last week's issue, we gave the wrong title for Bambi Lake's book. It is The Unsinkable Bambi Lake.