Folsom's 93

The Lives and Crimes of Folsom Prison's Executed Men

Leave a comment

Saved by scruples . . . against the death penalty

Former California Governor James Rolph, Jr., wasn’t shy about his opposition toward the death penalty. During his reign as Governor from 1931 to 1934, Rolph promised every condemned man at least one reprieve. He held true to his word, even issuing nine reprieves to Folsom inmate and #80, Pat Nobles. Rolph undoubtedly would have issued more had he not  taken ill and died in June, 1934.

#80, Pat Nobles

Today, a Governor’s obvious scruples against the death penalty is making headlines. Oregon Governor, John Kitzhaber, just declared that no prisoner will be legally executed on his watch. Since his governorship began in 1995, Kitzhaber has allowed two executions to take place in Oregon, but he now admits he regrets those executions.

“I simply cannot participate once again in something that I believe to be morally wrong.”

“It is time for this state to consider a different approach.”

Critics say Kitzhaber is “usurping the will of voters” who support the death penalty, but this decision is not an about-face. His opposition was well-known which impacts the lives of 37 death row inmates in Oregon, one of which was scheduled to die on December 6th. Kitzhaber defended his position, saying . . .

“The reality is that, in Oregon, our death sentence is essentially an extremely expensive life prison term,” Kitzhaber said. “Far more expensive than the terms of others who are sentenced to life in prison without parole, rather than to death row.”

Kitzhaber, a licensed doctor, cites his physicians’ oath, “to do no harm,” as part of his decision. He was recently elected to  an unprecedented third term as governor and there’s no question every move he makes, from here on out, will be closely scrutinized.

Next year, California voters will be faced with the same monumental decision: Should the death penalty be abolished?

Leave a comment

To Execute or Not to Execute . . .

After undertaking the project of writing Folsom’s 93, I know more about the death penalty than I ever imagined I would. It’s the hottest topic that no one is discussing. It sits in the shadows of health care reform, our wars in the Middle East, and Shwarzenegger’s love child. However, states across the country are making headlines by introducing bills to abolish the death penalty and/or make changes to their current laws. What’s your state up to?


I was recently contacted by Chris Cassidy who does work for Amnesty International and he shared with me some fascinating facts about the death penalty and its presence in the United States. He put together this infographic to illustrate where the US stands compared to other countries:

As you can see, the US is still going strong when it comes to executions, but we’ve actually slowed down a bit from 300 in 1998 to 106 in 2009. According to The Death Penalty Information Center, by 2009, 129 countries had abolished the death penalty.

Today in California, there are 704 inmates on death row. According to the DPIC, 63% of 800 Californians polled, favor commutation, thus saving the state $1 billion over the next 5 years. Citizens liked the idea of the money going toward education and law enforcement, however, this controversial issue is far from black and white. put together the following pros and cons of the issue:

Yes—Abolishing the death penalty:

  1. Financial costs to taxpayers of capital punishment is several times that of keeping someone in prison for life.
  2. It is barbaric and violates the “cruel and unusual” clause in the Bill of Rights.
  3. The endless appeals and required additional procedures clog our court system.
  4. We as a society have to move away from the “eye for an eye” revenge mentality if civilization is to advance.
  5. It sends the wrong message: why kill people who kill people to show killing is wrong.
  6. Life in prison is a worse punishment and a more effective deterrent.
  7. Other countries (especially in Europe) would have a more favorable image of America.
  8. Some jury members are reluctant to convict if it means putting someone to death.
  9. The prisoner’s family must suffer from seeing their loved one put to death by the state, as well as going through the emotionally-draining appeals process.
  10. The possibility exists that innocent men and women may be put to death.
  11. Mentally ill patients may be put to death.
  12. It creates sympathy for the monstrous perpetrators of the crimes.
  13. It is useless in that it doesn’t bring the victim back to life.

No—Keep the death penalty:

  1. The death penalty gives closure to the victim’s families who have suffered so much.
  2. It creates another form of crime deterrent.
  3. Justice is better served.
  4. Our justice system shows more sympathy for criminals than it does victims.
  5. It provides a deterrent for prisoners already serving a life sentence.
  6. DNA testing and other methods of modern crime scene science can now effectively eliminate almost all uncertainty as to a person’s guilt or innocence.
  7. Prisoner parole or escapes can give criminals another chance to kill.
  8. It contributes to the problem of overpopulation in the prison system.
  9. It gives prosecutors another bargaining chip in the plea bargain process, which is essential in cutting costs in an overcrowded court system.

SO WHAT DO YOU THINK? If it came to the voters in your state on whether or not to abolish the death penalty, could you make a definitive decision?