Retired Orange County, California Superior Court Judge Donald A. McCartin, who was once known as “the hanging judge,” recently called for an end to the death penalty. In a column he published in the Orange County Register, McCartin revealed that a number of recent death penalty cases and rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court have led him to now oppose capital punishment because it is expensive and can never be applied in a fair and balanced way. He wrote:

This may seem strange coming from a man known as the “hanging judge” of Orange County, but I think it’s time to abolish the death penalty. During my 15 years on the bench (1978- 1993), I sent 9 men to death row. I believed then it was the appropriate punishment for certain murders, but recent events have altered my view.

[L]egal debates result in staggering expenses and years of irresolution. These expenses have helped convert me. In times of huge budget deficits, too much money is squandered in murder trials and retrials.

Studies show capital cases cost triple the amount of non-capital cases. When I tried Randy Kraft, one of this country’s most prolific serial killers, the tab exceeded $10 million. This hemorrhage of taxpayers’ money continues as his case and hundreds more crawl through the legal labyrinth, but anyone sentenced to die is justly entitled to his Supreme Court-mandated appeals. It currently costs $90,000 more every year to house a convict on death row. Clearly, waste could be drastically curbed by simply dumping capital punishment.

I recognize that basing my decision on systemic failures opens me to the argument that once the problems are corrected, capital punishment would be acceptable. Though this sounds logical, I believe fixing these deficiencies is searching for the Holy Grail. The chances of establishing faultless government, impeccable industry or immaculate religious organizations border on nonexistent.

This also applies to the quest for perfect justice. Human error, inequities, biases and personal ideologies create the problems that have caused my rejection of the death penalty. Because these frailties will not magically vanish, capital punishment cannot be implemented with any sense of balance or fairness, thus it must be abolished.

(Orange County Register, June 24, 2005) See New Voices and Costs.