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Paul V. Coates--Confidential File

May 24, 2007 |  1:24 pm

Paul_coatesMay 24, 1957

REVENGE is a kind of wild justice, which the more man's nature runs to, the more law ought to weed it out--Francis Bacon

Six states out of our 48 have abolished the death penalty.

And California had a chance this week to become the seventh.

But it declined.

By a vote of 31 to 9, our senators rejected a bill which would have closed the gas chamber of San Quentin for six years.

To me, the rejection was a disappointment. A rather big one.

Because I don't believe the death penalty is a deterrent to crime.

Nor do I believe in laws of revenge.

We are, or should be, too civilized to permit such spiteful legal murder to be a part of our code of justice.

Ad_tropicana But what appalled me most was NOT the fact that the bill was defeated.

Sen. James E. Busch (R) of Ukiah, in an emotional frenzy, screamed out against those 23 men now in San Quentin's death row as "vermin, rats, lice and lascivious lizards."

He continued.

"We thought it was all right to drop a bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki where some 90,000 kids and women were killed.

"We did it because it was war.

"Isn't this war between these rats and society?"

I shudder at such twisted babbling in our state Capitol.

Because in the first place, the 23 men now in Death Row would have had their punishment changed to life imprisonment with NO possibility of parole if the bill had passed.

And in the second place, society declares war on no one.

It tries, instead, to protect itself by removing those who threaten it.

And life imprisonment without parole offers us the same protection as does legal murder.

Another enemy of the bill, Sen. Donald L. Grunsky (R) of Watsonville, charged that the measure's backers were "innocent victims of a sob-sister attitude."

"Let's not use the great state of California as a guinea pig," he said.

Personally, I consider myself an innocent victim of nothing.

And I'm aware that Sen. Grunsky's remarks came after substantial evidence was presented to the body that elimination of capital punishment laws in other states, and in Canada and other countries, had not caused the crime rate to increase.

In honesty, I was not surprised that the bill failed.

And I was quite pleased with the attention it drew in newspaper, radio and television reports.

Because I'm convinced that the more the public knows about capital punishment, and the sooner it knows, the sooner it will overwhelmingly denounce its practice as a hangover from dark, barbaric ages.

Yesterday, the Mirror-News printed the results of a survey conducted by Walter H. Eaton's Los Angeles Poll.

The question asked was:

Are you in favor of capital punishment?

The results:

In favor: 51%
Opposed: 35%
Undecided: 14%

The vote indicates that I am with the minority. But it's not the first time.

And I think, and hope, that the next time a poll is taken, we'll be the majority. In the past week, capital punishment has been an extremely controversial issue--and a lot of persons learned much about the real issue.

Sen. Richard Richards (D) of Los Angeles, spoke Wednesday for the 35% on Eaton's poll when he declared:

"I have no illusions about the outcome of today's vote. But as sure as I'm standing here, the time will come when the Senate will vote for such a bill as this."