San Diego prosecutors believe they are now handling a record number of capital cases, reports the San Diego Union-Tribune. They attribute the phenomenon to scientific advances that have made new cases and cold cases solveable. The district attorney is seeking the death penalty against seven men, and that number could rise to nine or more by midsummer. One defendants is Scott Erskine, who has been convicted of the molestation, torture and murders of two South Bay boys strangled in 1993. His retrial in the penalty phase of his case is concluding now. The others charged with capital crimes are awaiting trial. “I think it’s just a statistical aberration that we have the number that we have now,” said Deputy District Attorney Jeff Dusek, who heads the cold case homicide unit and is prosecuting the seventh death penalty case of his more-than-25-year career.
Recent advances in DNA technology, partly explain the rash of capital proceedings. Erskine’s case is one. The boys’ 1993 slayings went unsolved for years until genetic evidence from the crime scene was reanalyzed through new techniques that tied him to the crimes. Erskine was serving a prison term for raping a San Diego woman several months after the boys were killed when he was charged in 2001. District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, who is charged with making each decision over whether to seek the death penalty, says it’s always a tough choice. She gives defense attorneys the opportunity to convince her to seek life in prison without the possibility of parole. She tries to speak with relatives of the victims to see how they feel.