Starr: Death Penalty System Not Working Properly


Kenneth Starr, the former Whitewater special prosecutor now seeking mercy for a condemned prisoner, says he still favors the death penalty but doesn’t believe the legal system for capital cases is working properly, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. “Society is not equipped to handle death penalty cases because of resources,” Starr said Thursday. “Large law firms are not willing at this stage to take these cases on, at a cost of many thousands of dollars, in order to make sure that if the public wants the death penalty, it is not administered with arbitrariness and caprice.”

Starr, dean of Pepperdine University Law School, was brought into Michael Morales’ case three weeks ago by the condemned murderer’s longtime lawyer, to seek clemency from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Morales, 46, is scheduled to be executed Tuesday for a 1981 rape and murder. Morales’s lawyers contend he was sentenced to death only because of jailhouse informant Bruce Samuelson’s testimony. Samuelson’s entire testimony was a lie, defense lawyers say, as shown by his assertion that the two men discussed the crime entirely in Spanish — a language his lawyers say Morales does not speak. Starr had never been involved in a death penalty case until about four years ago, when his Washington, D.C., law firm was recruited to try to save a condemned man in Virginia. Starr argued Robin Lovitt’s case through multiple levels of federal courts, losing at every turn until November, when Gov. Mark Warner granted clemency a day before Lovitt was to be executed. The experience “seared in my consciousness the need to be sensitive to calls and cries for help, even at the 11th hour, when society might take a life and when the justice system had failed,” Starr said.


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