California white supremacist gang hit man Billy Joe Johnson asked for and got a death sentence in the expectation that conditions on death row would be more comfortable than in other prisons and that any date with the executioner would be decades away if at all, reports the Los Angeles Times. Capital punishment in California has become so bogged down by legal challenges as to be a nearly empty threat. “This is a dramatic reaffirmation of what we’ve already known for some time, that capital punishment in California takes way too long,” Kent Scheidegger of the law-and-order Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in Sacramento.
California has the nation’s largest death row population, with 685 sentenced to die by lethal injection. Yet only 13 executions have been carried out since capital punishment resumed in 1977 and none of the condemned has been put to death since a moratorium was imposed nearly four years ago. Five times as many death row inmates — 71 — have died over that same period of natural causes, suicide, or inside violence. Though death row inmates at San Quentin State Prison are far from coddled, they live in single cells that are slightly larger than the two-bunk, maximum-security confines elsewhere, they have better access to telephones, and they have “contact visits” in plexiglass booths by themselves rather than in communal halls as in other institutions.