It's likely that a huge number of San Diego County residents support the death penalty for David Westerfield. Convicted of kidnapping and murdering a defenseless little girl, Westerfield finds himself on one of the lowest rungs of the human ladder. Now the jury that found him guilty last week must decide his sentence-life without parole or the death penalty.
If indeed Westerfield did what he's been convicted of, no one would argue for anything less than life in prison without the possibility of parole. Someone who feels a need to kill a 7-year-old girl has to be expected to do it-or something equally heinous-again. Westerfield has to be removed from the land of the free; there's no question about that.
But should he be removed from the land of the living? CityBeat says no.
Given this citizenry's collective distaste for people like Westerfield, that's not likely to be a popular position. But it's less a comment on the Westerfield case itself than a comment on the death penalty in general. For if there were ever an ideal candidate for capital punishment, it's this unsavory character.
If you ask most people what sentence is appropriate for Westerfield, those who pick death will invariably say that, having taken the life of an innocent child, he doesn't deserve to live. Danielle van Dam doesn't get to live anymore; why should he?
That's a philosophical question that a government, or 12 jurors, should not answer, we would argue. We believe no one should have the authority to sentence another human being to death. And most countries around the world agree: the death penalty is practiced in only a scant few nations-well known human-rights violators Iraq and China among them.
At the very least, California and all other states should place an indefinite moratorium on the death penalty until we can figure out how to administer it fairly, without racial inequalities or politics, making sure that all defendants have access to high-quality legal counsel.
In California, a disproportionate number of death row inmates are people of color, and almost all of them were poverty-stricken when tried for their alleged crimes. It should come as no surprise to anyone that poor people often get less-than-stellar defense representation. Innocent people have been mistakenly been put to death-that's why Illinois has placed a moratorium on its death penalty-and that trend will continue because justice is not an exact science.
True, some of those realities don't relate to Westerfield. He's white, and he got very competent legal counsel. It's safe to say the system worked in his case.
But although many of us feel strongly about him and his crime, emotion-particularly rage and the hunt for vengeance-shouldn't play a role when justice is being meted out.
Let's spare Westerfield's life and know that he's spending the rest of his days living with the knowledge that he caused a lot of decent people a terrible, terrible amount pain and suffering. That, we think, is a real death sentence.