Eye on the Courts: Life Without Parole

On Monday, William Gardner was sentenced to life without parole for the 2013 killing of Leslie Pinkston. It was a case that really could have earned Mr. Gardner the death penalty – but the death penalty is expensive, it is lengthy, and, in the end, it is not clear that the result would be any different than life without parole.

In 2012, anti-death penalty activists – and I consider myself a staunch opponent of the death penalty, put Prop. 34 on the ballot which would have ended the death penalty in California and replaced it with life without parole.

I supported Prop. 34, but many of the death row inmates actually opposed it. Part of that was the fear or belief that the removal of the death penalty would reduce appellate rights and therefore, as one inmate, Correll Thomas, put it, “the courthouse doors will be slammed forever.”

I am not here to defend William Gardner – there was little doubt about his guilt in this case. He mercilessly stalked his victim, tormented her. If I have a concern here, as expressed previously, it was the failure of the authorities to act to protect Ms. Pinkston, which I think has never been reconciled.

Jeff Reisig at the press conference yesterday indicated that the heinousness of the crime spurred him to personally get involved in this case and he noted that Winters had an innocence that was shattered that November day in 2013.

However, no one seemed to want to press him on the failures of the system to keep a man in custody when he was making thousands of calls and threats to the victim whom he had been stalking and threatening.

Mr. Gardner also did not take any kind of responsibility for his actions. He blamed everyone but himself – claiming racial bias prevented him from having a fair trial. He rightly noted that there was a lack of African-Americans on his jury panel – and this is indeed a frequent problem in Yolo County, as we have a large number of mainly Latino defendants and a large number of mainly white jurors.

However, that caveat noted, the jury composition would have made no difference in this case – it was not a close call. The bottom line is that J. Toney, an excellent attorney, had a difficult client and an even more difficult case and the facts speak for themselves here.

There are crimes in Yolo County and there are people who commit those crimes and there is no doubt that William Gardner killed Leslie Pinkston.

The question now is what the punishment should be.

That gets me to life without parole. As I said, in 2012, I was happy to replace the death penalty in California with life without parole. I am morally opposed to the death penalty, I do not believe we as a society have a right to determine life and death. That role falls to nature or God, depending on your worldview.

I also do not believe that the death penalty works. There are too many cases of wrongful conviction, even in an era of DNA testing. I have yet to see empirical data that the death penalty is a deterrent.

So the question is whether there are people who are so bad that they will always be a threat to society – and I believe, unequivocally, that the answer is yes. At the same time, I believe in redemption. We often view redemption in the religious sense, a freeing or absolution from sin or the act of saving. But I think the act of redemption in the material world is a far more powerful concept.

David Dow, a Professor at the University of Houston Law Center, in 2012 wrote: “As a death row lawyer who fights to keep his clients alive, I believe life without parole denies the possibility of redemption every bit as much as strapping a murderer to the gurney and filling him with poison.”

It is a similar argument that we made with regard to Daniel Marsh – there is nothing to stop Daniel Marsh or William Gardner from serving the rest of their life in prison. They may well both deserve to spend the rest of their lives in prison and be irredeemable. Certainly, William Gardner is a grown man with a long history, and is even less likely to change.

But why make that decision now? Why not allow a parole board in 25 years or so to make the call? William Gardner is 31 and would be 56 in 25 years.

Parole boards are notoriously stringent. A Stanford University study of lifer paroles between 1990 and 2010 found that a murderer had a 6 percent chance of leaving prison alive. Part of that is that governors now have veto power on board decisions.

Now times have changed in that regard. Governor Gray Davis only released two inmates out of the 232 releases granted by the parole board between 1999 and 2002. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger sustained it at a 27 percent clip for the 2050 parolees, and Governor Brown has increased the rate to 82 percent of 1590 paroles.

The Stanford study also notes that the parole boards have generally gotten it right. They show that lifers who are released on parole re-offend at much lower rates than other inmates and none have been convicted of a new murder.

Of the 860 murderers paroled between 1990 and 2010 that Stanford tracked, just five inmates have re-offended and none of them were convicted of murder.

Part of the reason for that is that the average released lifer is in his mid-50s. Studies show, in general, that older people are less prone to commit new crimes than younger ones. That holds true for convicted criminals as well as the general population.

The other point is that the parole board is careful about whom they release. They are not going to release people who appear to be mentally unstable or who cause problems while incarcerated.

As Mr. Dow points out, “Charles Manson is not serving life without parole, but he has been rejected every single time he has appeared before the parole board and will die behind bars.”

The bottom line for William Gardner is that, while I cannot really object to the notion that he could spend his life in prison, I see little reason that we have to make that call today, when he’s just 31 years old. More and more, I don’t see that we need life without parole. We just need to make sure that when we do release people, we are releasing people – as we have – who do not represent a threat to society anymore.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

Related posts

24 Comments

  1. South of Davis

    David wrote:

    >  We just need to make sure that when we do release people,

    > we are releasing people – as we have – who do not represent

    > a threat to society anymore.

    The reason we need life without parole is that  people like Charles Manson, Daniel Marsh and William Gardner can easily convince people (everyone deserves a second chance people on the left and Jesus can help anyone people on the right) who believe in “redemption” that they are “not a threat to society anymore” so they can get out and do more killing, raping and torturing.  It is people like David that believed in “redemption” that let killer Willie Horton out on a weekend furlough program and we all know how that worked out…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willie_Horton

    1. David Greenwald

      That’s not true. Charles Manson has never convinced anyone to release him and he has been up for parole many times. Twenty years of data in California says otherwise.

  2. sisterhood

    “I am morally opposed to the death penalty, I do not believe we as a society have a right to determine life and death. That role falls to nature or God, depending on your worldview.”

    I agree. As long as there is even one person wrongfully convicted, it is nothing short of murder.

    Re: Daniel Marsh, I believe he should be released some day. After reading about his horrible medical treatment, I don’t think we, as a community, did everything we could for the child. It appears, perhaps, his crimes could have been avoided with proper medical care. He was insane. I hope he is now getting propr treatment and can be healed.

    1. Davis Progressive

      ” I believe he should be released some day.”

      you’re making the same mistake the advocates for lwop are making – you don’t know if he should be released someday.  it’s possible that he should be, but it might be more likely not.  we don’t know.

  3. Biddlin

    “Re: Daniel Marsh, I believe he should be released some day. After reading about his horrible medical treatment, I don’t think we, as a community, did everything we could for the child. ”

    Certainly the same could be said for Charles Manson and almost any other sociopath. Should we give them a Mulligan, for a rough childhood, too? BTW, Can Danny live with you, if released? Bet not.

    ;>)/

    1. Barack Palin

      BTW, Can Danny live with you, if released? Bet not.

      Good point Biddlin, these bleeding heart liberals are all for giving sociopaths a second chance as long as they live somewhere else and not on their street.

      1. Davis Progressive

        no one is for giving sociopaths a second chance.  all that was advocated here is that a parole board in the future is a better way to make a decision that an emotional reaction now.

  4. Anon

    “But why make that decision now? Why not allow a parole board in 25 years or so to make the call?”

    Because in 25 years evidence is stale/forgotten, the victims may not be willing or able to testify before the parole board, etc.

    1. Davis Progressive

      and yet the overwhelming evidence is that very few convicted murders sentenced to life are released EVER.  so you’re decrying a problem that actually doesn’t exist.

        1. Davis Progressive

          the poster was lamenting that in 25 years things got forgotten, my experience in front of parole boards are that nothing gets forgotten.  therefore, the problem doesn’t exist.

  5. theotherside

    “I do not believe we as a society have a right to determine life and death. That role falls to nature or God, depending on your worldview.”

    Should we not hold defendants to the same standard? Taking someone’s life, when unjustified, is the worst crime one is able to commit.  Sentencing a convicted murderer to life without parole does more than just protect society, it is also a punishment.  How is this even a question?  When you take a life, you should get the rest of yours locked up to think about it.  He can redeem himself all he wants, behind bars.

    1. David Greenwald

      We do hold defendants to the same standard, taking someone’s life is the worst crime and it is punished by exclusion from our society. The question here is whether that exclusion should be permanent from the outset or whether we have the ability to evaluate it after a period of time.

      1. theotherside

        “The question here is whether that exclusion should be permanent from the outset or whether we have the ability to evaluate it after a period of time.”

        Not every person convicted of homicide is sentenced to death or LWOP.  So your question is answered, some are evaluated for their capability of returning to society.  Others are found to have committed a crime so egregious that they cannot return.

      2. hpierce

        “…taking someone’s life is the worst crime and it is punished by exclusion from our society.”

        Seem to be missing some modifiers to “taking life”.  There are a number of types of events where someone “takes a life”, and it isn’t even a ‘crime’, much less punished to the degree of “exclusion from society”.

        I agree with the concept of re-evaluation possibilities, but do not think they should be frequent for a given individual, nor do I think those convicted of more heinous crimes should be released without damn good justification/documentation.  The risk to the rest of society should be weighed heavily.

         

  6. WesC

    I physician who I used to work with once told me he will never again recommend early release for any inmate.  The case that changed his mind on early release was a case of an inmate who robbed a mom & pop store and was shot and became paralyzed from the waist down during the robbery.  In prison he became a model inmate, participating in numerous rehabilitation programs, and seemed to really turn his life around.  He was granted an early release and one of the very first things he did after release was to return to the mom & pop store and shoot both of the people in the store who he felt were directly responsible for his condition.

    The other case was related to my by a mental health clinician I worked with.  This inmate again became a model or rehabilitation, brought god in to his life and appeared to become a model christian.  Several people recommended early release, including his correctional counselor. Within a few months of his release he stabbed 4 people.

    I think that stories like this are why those whose  professional opinions might carry significant weight in a release hearing are very hesitant to go to bat for an inmate and recommend early release.

    I have also heard it said that  when career criminals reach middle age, they often choose a new career.  One of the primary reasons being that when you are young and in your prime, you are usually the winner in altercations on the streets and when locked up.  When you are in your 40-50 and the other guy is in his 20’s, you often end up on the shit end of the stick which is a pretty good motivator for choosing a new career.

  7. Anon

    “the poster was lamenting that in 25 years things got forgotten, my experience in front of parole boards are that nothing gets forgotten.  therefore, the problem doesn’t exist.”

    After 25 years, the victim is always able/willing to make a victim impact statement before the parole board?  I think not.

    From https://www.ncjrs.gov/ovc_archives/reports/impact/impact.htm:

    “Despite the victim movement’s monumental strides, in many state and local jurisdictions, victims still retain no rights to be present, informed and heard, to have a voice in the sentencing process, or be informed, present and heard during the paroling process. As crime rates continue to escalate, and growing numbers of victims enter the criminal justice system, it becomes increasingly important that this nation’s policymakers critically review all current victim rights legislation, policies and procedures. By doing so, we can ensure strong and comprehensive program services are in place to effectively meet the needs of crime victims.”

  8. Miwok

    Nice comments from everyone, with varying degrees of academic and emotional responses.

    All I have to add is if you argue for ever letting a murderer out or even a thief, since there are more of those, would you put them in your neighborhood and even in your house as a part of their re-integration to society?

    Why is Davis not a Model City, as it is a Sanctuary City, for ex-cons, child molesters, and parolees?

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
$ USD
Sign up for