[Deathpenalty]death penalty news --- CALIF.
j_sommer at gmx.net
Thu Jul 8 10:52:38 CDT 2004
death penalty news
July 8, 2004
San Fran D.A. makes death penalty stand
Kamala Harris' election in December as the new district attorney was
supposed to be a turning point for police-prosecutor relations in San
Francisco, where lofty, liberal ideals sometimes clash with the
street-level realities of law enforcement.
Harris, after all, defeated a DA who had antagonized the police by refusing
to prosecute many drug crimes and by conducting an ill-fated corruption
probe of the chief and his top brass.
But then Harris herself promptly had a falling-out with the Police Department.
Just three months after she took office, she refused to seek the death
penalty against a man suspected of killing a police officer. That brought
fire from police as well as Sen. Dianne Feinstein and other politicians.
Harris, 39, California's first elected prosecutor of either black or East
Indian descent, stuck to her guns, reminding second-guessers that she had
made her opposition to capital punishment clear during her campaign.
Now the furor appears to have eased, and there are signs of a newfound
respect for the new DA.
"You have to stay focused on your purpose for being there, which is to do
the right thing and to do the just thing," she said in a recent interview.
A recent poll showed that 70 percent of San Francisco voters thought Harris
had done the right thing by declaring she would pursue life without parole
for the officer's alleged killer. The city's Board of Supervisors, a
majority of whom backed Harris' predecessor in the election, also issued a
statement of support.
"Kamala Harris has been heroic in really standing for the principles she
ran for office on, and I don't think most people, including myself, are
used to politicians actually following through on their convictions," said
Van Jones, a police critic who directs the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.
Killing a police officer is one of 25 "special circumstances" that make
murderers eligible for the death penalty in California. On April 10,
Officer Isaac Espinoza, a married father, was gunned down with an assault
rifle while patrolling one of San Francisco's roughest neighborhoods. He
was the city's first officer to die in the line of duty in a decade.
Less than three days later, Harris announced she would not ask a jury to
condemn David Hill, 21, citing Hill's age, lack of an adult criminal record
and what she described as the futility in trying to find a San Francisco
jury willing to send a man to death row. Of the 640 or so inmates awaiting
execution at San Quentin, only one arrived from San Francisco, and that was
15 years ago.
The police union and the officer's grieving family called on Harris to
reverse her stand or withdraw her office from the case. Fellow Democrats
such as Feinstein criticized her, and California's attorney general
considered intervening in the case.
"Anyone who thought Kamala Harris was going to buckle under pressure
doesn't know her very well," San Francisco public defender Jeff Adachi.
"She is very adamant in terms of her positions."
Harris said she hopes her relationship with the police can be repaired.
There have been signs that the union may be ready to mend fences.
With Francisco's murder rate climbing this year, it is imperative that the
two crime-fighting agencies work together and "agree to disagree on the
death penalty," said Gary Delagnes, president of the San Francisco Police
"You have to take a certain position of permissiveness to get elected here,
but we believe Kamala knows the job," he said.
Harris was a deputy DA in San Francisco before she quit. She had long
labored under the perception that she owed her professional success to an
ex-boyfriend, former Mayor Willie Brown. Last fall, she ran against her
former boss, Terence Hallinan, and won.
Harris attended Howard University in Washington and Hastings College of the
Law in San Francisco. She was raised in Berkeley as the child of two
professors, a Jamaican father and an East Indian mother. In her family's
household, civil rights activism was a way of life.
"Traditionally, people from my background would think the best way to have
an impact on those communities is to become some type of social worker,"
she said. But she chose instead to "get right in there at the table when
the decisions are being made."
Harris has tried to avoid getting pigeonholed as either "hard on crime" or
"soft on crime" since she took office in January. She thinks of her agenda
as "smart on crime."
That has meant bringing a backlog of old murder cases to trial and seeking
stiffer penalties for those convicted of gun possession. Adachi, the public
defender, said that plea offers under the new DA have not been as favorable
to his clients.
Harris is also pressing for a law that would allow her to charge men who
solicit sex from underage prostitutes with child abuse, and is sponsoring
fraud-awareness workshops for Chinese immigrants.
"The role of the prosecutor is to do justice," Harris said. "It's not about
locking people up because you can, or locking them up for the maximum time
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