California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is about to confront his role in carrying out the death penalty in a state with the nation’s largest death row. The San Jose Mercury News reports that Schwarzenegger has already displayed a far more moderate streak on crime and punishment matters than former Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, allowing parole for at least six murderers who were not facing execution. Kevin Cooper, scheduled to be put to death Feb. 10 for killing four people in 1983 has filed a clemency petition asking Schwarzenegger.
The Mercury News says the case will provide the first glimpse into whether the governor will embrace the death penalty with the same absolute fealty did as his predecessors. Even if he allows the execution to proceed — considered likely by experts following the case — he will face similar requests from other death row inmates who want their sentence reduced to life in prison.
The governor will use the same process employed by Davis, holding a public hearing before the Board of Prison Terms. After that, his. “He’s certainly indicated that in the right case he’d be willing to entertain it,” said Peter Siggins, Schwarzenegger’s legal affairs secretary. “I can tell you the governor is a supporter of the death penalty and believes it’s an appropriate form of punishment.”
One death row inmate, Stephen Wayne Anderson, tried unsuccessfully to remove Davis from the clemency process. Anderson was the most recently executed prisoner in California, in 2002. Davis almost never followed parole board recommendations to release convicted murderers, but Schwarzenegger already has allowed parole in the cases of the six murderers. Granting parole is different from commuting a death sentence. But there is broad agreement that Schwarzenegger may have the political independence to grant clemency. “From the very beginning, he said he’s a fiscal conservative and a social moderate,”said Republican political strategist Dan Schnur. “He upports the death penalty, but is willing to consider clemency in a way Davis never could.”
Cooper seems an unsympathetic candidate for clemency. He has been on death row for about 18 years for killing with a hatchet a suburban couple, their 10-year-old daughter, and her 11-year-old friend. He had escaped from a nearby Chino prison two days earlier.