Gee, just what I need... ANOTHER reason to hate this prick.
More Killers Gaining Parole
Under Schwarzenegger, 48 murderers have been released in less than a year. In his five years as governor, Gray Davis freed just eight.
By Peter Nicholas
Times Staff Writer
September 18, 2004
SACRAMENTO — For all his tough-guy swagger, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is quietly pursuing one of the most permissive parole policies California has seen in years, freeing convicted murderers in numbers that dwarf those of his two predecessors.
In less than a year in office, Schwarzenegger has approved parole for 48 people serving life terms for murder. Former Gov. Gray Davis released eight in his five years in office.
The 48, plus 10 inmates serving life terms for other offenses, have been paroled with Schwarzenegger's consent. That's as many as were released in a six-year span in the 1990s covering most of Republican Gov. Pete Wilson's tenure.
The governor was not available for comment. But spokeswoman Terri Carbaugh said Schwarzenegger "believes that people can reform and be reformed…. When he sits down with his attorneys to review parole matters, he's not thinking about the political consequences. He's thinking about public safety and the individual at hand."
The state Board of Prison Terms, led by a Schwarzenegger appointee, is paroling inmates at seven times the rate under Wilson. In only two of the last 13 years has the board approved parole for as many as 5% of the inmates it considered for release. Through August of this year, the figure was 7%.
"It certainly provides quite a bit of hope for the thousands of lifers who thought they had no hope of under Gov. Davis," said Keith Wattley, staff attorney for the Prison Law Office near San Quentin State Prison, which provides legal services to inmates.
"However, you have to keep in mind that these are still really low numbers. It's really the cream of the cream of the crop who ever get to the governor's office. While there's some hope, it's still a bad situation for them."
For a governor, particularly one with larger political aspirations, releasing prison inmates carries potentially devastating consequences. Much of the 1988 presidential race turned on Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis' parole policies in Massachusetts, after an inmate named Willie Horton attacked a couple while on furlough.
Davis paroled murderers on the rarest of occasions, routinely using the governor's veto power to overturn his own board's parole awards. The state Supreme Court upheld his right to do so in a 2002 ruling. The court said the governor was free to deny parole even in cases in which an inmate had a spotless record in prison
Davis once voiced the view that even murderers with second-degree convictions should serve out life sentences, without exception.
"If you take someone else's life, forget it," Davis said in an interview early in his first term.
"Compared to Gray Davis, Attila the Hun would look moderate," said Franklin Zimring, a law professor who runs the criminal justice research program at UC Berkeley.
Schwarzenegger may have less to fear, he added. With a public image forged in movie roles of heroic cops — battling drug dealers, criminals, and even Satan — "The Terminator" may have more space than his predecessors to free prisoners without appearing soft on crime.
"He doesn't have real [political] base worries right now," Zimring said.
State Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco) said Schwarzenegger has guts and "knows who he is and isn't afraid of what people think."
At issue are inmates serving life terms, with the possibility of parole, for murder, kidnapping and other offenses. Each year, the nine-member parole board — made up of gubernatorial appointees serving staggered terms — holds thousands of hearings at California prisons, considering whether eligible inmates are suitable for release.
If the board votes for parole, the case goes to the governor, who has the power to let the decision stand or keep the inmate locked up.
Schwarzenegger is not only upholding board rulings more often, he appears to be shaping a panel that is more apt to let people out.
The governor's policies are playing out at a time when the murder rate is dropping.
Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer said Friday that the state's 2003 homicide rate dropped slightly from 2002. The 2003 rate of about 6.7 homicides per 100,000 residents represents a drop of more than 40% since 1994, when it was 11.5 per 100,000 residents, he said.
In a move that may signal Schwarzenegger's direction, the governor dropped his support for a nominee to the parole board who had served for two months while awaiting Senate confirmation. Richard Loa had drawn sharp complaints from inmate attorneys for his questioning of prisoners seeking parole.
Loa, a Palmdale city councilman who supported Schwarzenegger in the recall campaign, stepped down from the board in August amid warnings from Burton that he would not win Senate confirmation. Schwarzenegger chose not to fight.
"We expressed our concern and the fact that confirmation would be problematic," Burton said. "They looked into it and on their own decided he wasn't the type of person for the board.''
Loa, whose council biography describes him as a "staunch supporter of law enforcement," said in an interview that he expected to be appointed soon to another job in Schwarzenegger's administration.
To date, the governor has made three appointments to the parole board: Margarita Perez, a Democrat from Cameron Park; Susan Fisher, a Republican from Oceanside; and Loa.
The board faces a large backlog of cases. Members hear cases in two-member panels, a dynamic that elevates the power of individual members.
Leniency never has been the norm. In 1996, Wilson's board approved parole for 10 inmates out of 2,212 cases in which it took action. That works out to less than one-half of one percent of the applicants. Through August of this year, the board voted to parole 137 inmates in 1,948 hearings, a 7% rate.
For the parole board chairmanship, the governor chose Perez — a former prison guard whose voting record is even more disposed toward parole than the board as a whole. Perez has presided over 80 hearings and voted to grant parole 10% of the time.
Attorneys and legal scholars see a difference between the present board and its precursors.
The panel, said Gary Diamond, a Sacramento-based prison lawyer who said he had attended thousands of parole hearings, was "the seventh level of Dante's inferno.
"The people on the commission in the old days, with a couple of exceptions, were white, middle-aged or older retired law enforcement, paid back for a political favor. Wilson and Davis had political aspirations and weren't going to let anyone out."
There was a built-in conservatism rooted in an aversion to being second-guessed, analysts said.
Said Zimring: "There are two kinds of mistakes you can make: You can let people out you shouldn't — and then you'll hear about it. Or you can lock people up who should have been released. But you'll never hear about that kind of mistake."
Loa's voting record was not all that different from his colleagues. He voted to deny parole in 62 cases and grant clemency in five. Attorneys who represented inmates before him described him as combative in his questioning.
"He was never going to grant parole for the people that we have," said Rich Pfeiffer, an Orange attorney who has represented hundreds of clients before the board. "We're representing people who got sentenced on very serious, egregious crimes. They were sentenced to a very long term — potentially for the rest of their lives. The very few who can turn their lives around — when they [board members] don't recognize that, it turns into a life-without-the-possibility-of-parole sentence."
Board members have considerable discretion in the sorts of questions they can ask an inmate. The idea is to make sure that no one is let out who poses a threat to the public. An inmate's mental state, job prospects outside prison and the facts of the crime, among other things, are all criteria that board members may consider in judging suitability for parole.
On Aug. 3, less than a week before Loa stepped down, Senate President Burton got a letter from USC law professor Michael J. Brennan.
Brennan supervised three students who represented clients before the board. The professor said he opposed Loa's confirmation because of his style of questioning. Now that Loa is gone from the board, Brennan is calling for the panel to reopen the clients' cases.
Brennan wrote that Loa "cross-examined the inmates concerning the … offense in unnecessary detail, focusing on factual issues which had no relevance to a decision concerning the inmate's possible danger to society if released on parole."
Attorneys for another inmate convicted of murder, Lorrie McClary, also are asking for another hearing, after a panel led by Loa denied her parole. McClary's lawyers contend Loa gave scant credence to her claim that she was suffering from battered woman syndrome when the crime occurred in 1975.
Loa said: "Look at the transcripts" of the hearings. He said the complaints were not valid.
Still, inmate advocates say that under Schwarzenegger, parole prospects are brighter than has been the case in years.
Orange County attorney Pfeiffer, himself a former inmate who served more than two years in prison, said the governor's actions were giving some inmates hope:
"They see people getting out…. In the beginning, these hearings were futile."
He said that he was going to balance the budget regardless. This is just how bad a shape your state is in fiscally that this has to happen.
I wonder just how well this is going to go over when one of these killers does it again?
Let's see Arnie justify budget cuts over someone's dead body.
Its very easy to justify Arnies budget cuts regardless of how many are killed, you have no money. Your bonds are junk status. No one will loan you any money. The death toll will not change that. Banks are not going to lend you cash because your people are being killed.
Sucks to live in Kal-i-forn-i-a, doo da, doo da....