When James Lee Crummel hanged himself in his San Quentin Prison cell last month, he had been on Death Row for almost eight years, and still was years away from facing the executioner, reports the Associated Press. California’s death penalty appeals take so long that the state’s 723 condemned inmates are more likely to die of old age and infirmities –or kill themselves — than be put to death.
Since capital punishment was reinstated in 1978, California has executed 13 inmates–none since 2006. Twenty have committed suicide, and 57 inmates have died of natural causes. The ponderous pace of this process has helped make the state’s death row the nation’s most populous. Crime victims say the delays amount to justice denied. Death penalty opponents say the process, like execution itself, amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. State voters will get an opportunity this November to vote on a measure that would abolish the death penalty, which critics deride as an inefficient and expensive system for a financially troubled state.