Los Angeles Times Editorial: Exoneration Shows Why Death Penalty Needs to End

The April 2018 exoneration of Vicente Benavides Figueroa, wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death on charges of raping, sodomizing, and murdering his girlfriend's 21-month-old daughter, illustrates why the death penalty should be abolished, the Los Angeles Times said in an April 27, 2018 editorial. Benavides — an intellectually disabled Mexican national who was working as a seasonal farm worker — was sentenced to death after medical witnesses had been provided incomplete hospital records and erroneously testified that the child had been sexually assaulted. His conviction, the paper wrote, "was an egregious miscarriage of justice; he spent a quarter-century on death row for a crime he apparently did not commit. His exoneration serves as a reminder of what ought to be abundantly clear by now: that despite jury trials, appellate reconsideration and years of motions and counter-motions, the justice system is not infallible, and it is possible (or perhaps inevitable) that innocent people will end up facing execution at the hands of the state." Benavides's case, the Times said "ought to remind us of the dangers inherent in California's efforts to speed up the calendar for death penalty appeals under Proposition 66 .... Moving more quickly to execute convicted death row inmates increases the likelihood that due process will be given short shrift and the innocent will be put to death." The records that showed 21-month-old Consuelo Verdugo had not been sexually assaulted — and that cast doubt on whether she had been murdered at all — were not discovered until 7 years after trial. The one year Proposition 66 gives appellate lawyers to investigate cases and file appeals makes it less likely that they will discover such evidence "and thus more likely that innocent people will be put to death." The editorial concluded: "The unfixable problem with the death penalty is that mistakes get made, witnesses lie, confessions get coerced — all factors that can lead to false convictions. It is abjectly immoral to speed things up by limiting due process. The better solution is to get rid of the death penalty altogether."

(Editorial, The latest California death row exoneration shows why we need to end the death penalty, Los Angeles Times, April 27, 2018.) See Editorials and Innocence.