Another Side of the Story


Some crimes deserve
the death penalty

The sexual assault and murder of a minor is a horrific crime. No one disagrees that a strong sentence should be imposed upon the person who commits these offenses. The disagreements occur in trying to determine what that punishment should be.

I will introduce legislation during the upcoming session to give the state the option to impose the death penalty for the sexual assault and murder of a minor. In a Jan. 3 editorial, the Star-Bulletin called my legislation a case of "vengeance," however, I respectfully disagree and describe the punishment as the consequence of committing horrible crimes against a child. My own surveying showed 76 percent approval for this legislative proposal.

Federal prosecutors in Hawaii may currently seek the death penalty for certain crimes. I would like to see state courts have the same sentence options that are available at the federal level.

I understand the concerns of opponents of the death penalty, and my bill seeks to address some of those issues. The death penalty would not be imposed upon an individual who is or was a minor at the time of the crime. The death penalty also would not be imposed upon an individual who has mental illness.

In order for a jury to recommend the death penalty, there would have to be unanimous consent that the death penalty be considered as a sentence. The court could reject the capital punishment recommendation if it desired or felt capital punishment was not warranted. If the court accepted the recommendation of death by lethal injection, then the case would be automatically appealed to the Hawaii Supreme Court for review. The Hawaii Supreme Court could overturn the recommendation. The governor also could commute any sentence.

The last civilian execution in Hawaii occurred in 1943 when a man was hanged for the murder of a Kauai woman. Opponents argue that minorities were disproportionately found guilty and sentenced to death in old Hawaii. This same argument is used when discussing the abuse that African Americans faced in the South years ago.

Abuse and discrimination did occur in the past, but times are much different now; checks and balances are in place to minimize or negate any abuse that may occur.

Modern forensics and technology such as DNA testing also have changed the landscape of criminology. The likelihood of errors has decreased significantly as science has become more sophisticated.

If the evidence is overwhelming and irrefutable, a jury should at least be able to consider the death penalty in the case of a sexual assault and murder of a child.

These crimes are rare in Hawaii, so there should not be an avalanche of cases subject to the death penalty. I do believe, however, capital punishment should be an option for those crimes society feels warrant the sentence.

The Star-Bulletin's editorial also suggested that it would be better to focus on establishing programs aimed at protecting children. There are already programs to deal with crisis intervention and violence pre- vention, and I do not feel new programs are needed. I would support more funding for existing programs, but at the same time, approve capital punishment, which may be seen as a deterrent or as the ultimate punishment for heinous crimes against a minor.

I also will introduce a bill to legalize the death penalty for the murder of a minor. The tragic death of 11-year-old Kahealani Indreginal triggered the drafting of this bill. California recently imposed the death penalty upon David Westerfield of San Diego for the murder of 7-year-old Danielle van Dam. I believe the sentence is justified in this case and should be an option in our state, too.

Willie C. Espero is a Democrat representing the 20th Senate District (Ewa Beach-Kapolei).

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