Words Left Unspoken

Professor Lawrence C. Marshall

On Sunday afternoon, October 14, I participated in a public forum at Santa Rosa’s Shomrei Torah Synagogue. The focus was on two propositions that will appear on California’s November ballot. Proposition 34, if passed, will replace California’s death penalty with a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Proposition 36 would amend the Three Strikes and You’re Out law by requiring that the third strike is a serious or violent felony.


I was invited to support No on Prop 36, as I believe that the Three Strikes and You’re Out law should not be amended. Defense attorney and ACLU of Northern California board member Steve Fabian represented Yes on Prop 36. Kent Scheidegger, Legal Director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation argued against Prop 34. The argument to overturn the death penalty was represented by Stanford University Professor and legal clinic Director Lawrence C. Marshall. Congregation Shomrei Torah Rabbi George Gittleman concluded the program with reflections on the death penalty in Judaism.


Overall it was an educational and informative forum that was well attended by an enthusiastic audience. However, the incident that stood out the most was not witnessed by the audience as it occurred after the forum was concluded.


Throughout the years I have witnessed numerous interactions between crime victims and those who advocate on behalf of death row inmates. These criminal apologists make impassioned, and often times very compelling arguments on behalf of remorseless killers or other serious and violent criminals; yet they fail to look me in the eye, rarely shake my hand and never reference the circumstances that have brought me to the podium.


Proposition 36 was presented first. Mr. Fabian made his case for ten minutes and then I made mine. We were each given a five minute rebuttal and then took questions from the audience. Both sides were given equal weight and I hope that I changed some minds toward my position.


The same format was followed by the Prop 34 discussion. In his opening statement, with obvious emotion and in the throes of passion Professor Marshall said that life sentences give society “every bit of protection” it could ask for without risking “the cost of executing innocent people.”  This despite the fact that Governor Brown just signed Senate Bill 9, which can overturn prison sentences of life without parole for 309 convicted killers. He also seems unaware that Governor Brown, a death penalty opponent, recently said that, “There are no innocent inmates on California’s death row”. At one point in his opening, Professor Marshall even referenced my commentary that, “You can’t blame 3-strikes for racial disparities, because they exist throughout the criminal justice system.”


I don’t want to minimize Mr. Scheidegger’s opposition to Prop 34 because it was eloquent, strong, and based upon facts, but this about things that weren’t said, not things that were said.


During his rebuttal Professor Marshall made an impassioned plea for death row inmates when he said, “They are us, they’re our children. We are a community.” He obviously felt very differently about me because, although he was sitting a mere three feet away from me he didn’t look me in the eye, didn’t shake my hand and didn’t acknowledge the loss of my child at the hands of one of “his” children. In fact, as soon as the Rabbi had finished his remarks at the end of the program Professor Marshall bolted to the back of the room in what seemed to me a desperate attempt to avoid meeting me.


I know that death penalty opponents don’t like people like me. I remind them of the heinous nature of their constituency: cop killers, baby killers, serial killers, and mass murderers. I represent a truth that they would rather deny. After all, how can somebody evoke the humanity and brotherhood of a blood thirsty psychopath when the fruit of their murderous intent is sitting but a few feet away?


If Professor Marshall has empathy then it is misplaced.  How can he advocate society’s inhumanity to death row inmates without first acknowledging the impact of the heinous crimes that death row inmates commit, and the impact upon families, friends, and the community at large?


Personally, I believe that his gesture at the Temple speaks more to Prop 34 and Prop 36 than any of the formal presentations. Too bad nobody noticed it but me.

2 thoughts on “Words Left Unspoken

  1. Mr. Klaas,

    A student of mine brought your post to my attention and I am mortified to learn that you understood my rapid departure from the hall as indicating any disrespect for you or the position you advance. I left in a hurry due to an engagement in San Francisco for which I was already late. I apologize sincerely for any sense you had that I was avoiding you.

    Obviously, we disagree on many fundamental issues, and it is not my intent to reargue them here. But please do not take my views as seeking to diminish in any way the empathy I feel for what you and so many other victims and victims’ families have suffered. I have said many times, as I believe I did at the forum, that if the execution of those convicted could somehow bring back victims to life, I would fight along your side for executions to go forward. Sadly, they cannot restore those lives. Of course, you see other values in capital punishment that I do not. But I pray you recognize that our disagreement is not borne of callousness to the pain guilty individuals have caused.

    I have deep respect for anyone, like you, who devotes their life to promoting their view of what will make society better. To the extent that my not having had the chance to tell you that personally caused you to misunderstand my intentions, I am profoundly sorry.


    Larry Marshall

  2. Marc,
    I totally agree with you in what you felt was going on. I would like to shed light on some other points that are not being addressed. The majorities of citizen’s don’t see the positive impact measures 34, 35, & 36, have in their communities, now and in the future. The three strikes measure should be looked at in a way that shows you the criminal who is now on his third strike has only been caught for three offences. How many times have the criminal gotten away with vicious criminal acts before they actually found themselves behind bars? If criminals don’t like the thought of being locked up permanently on their third conviction, they need to stop living a life comprised of ongoing criminal actions. The death penalty can be argued either way depending on one’s social or religious beliefs. The rulings of the courts should be upheld regardless of our personal religious preference. Those who quote the Bible should remember it commands that we obey the laws of the land; however, I disagree with Gov. Brown that there are no innocent prisoners on death row. Therefore, we should allow for appeals. If there is no reasonable cause to allow an appeal and the individual is fighting to prove their innocence, they should continue to go through the necesssary channels that might get them acquitted. That being said, we spend more money on incarcerated felons than we do on the homeless veterans in our country. Those who fought for our freedoms are going without while murderers and predators are being housed and fed. How can anyone be in favor of building more structures to house criminals rather than put them to death for the heinous crime(s) they are sentenced for? I spoke to an up and coming criminal whose brother was doing time at San Quentin Prison for shoving his girlfriends head through her vehicle windshield, pulled her back, beat her and left her for dead. Being he was prone to anger issues, he was sent to Pelican Bay where they deal with dangerous non-compliant prisoners. After he started working with their rules and regulations, he was released back into society within a few short years. The parole board felt he had become a model prisoner and fit to live back in society. Two months after his release, he tracked down his ex-girlfriend and shot her three times, killing her. Now he is back in prison; however a jury did not feel he should be executed so he did not get the death penalty. She left behind three children under the age of seven – but he still lives his life every day. We all need to consider what the consequences will be if our jails and prisons continue to be over crowed and what the system considers the less violent criminals, because with the overcrowding of the prisons, they are allowed to roam once again amongst us. Very few come back into society and give up their victimizing ways. Death row has an ongoing population expansion because no one ever leaves. The inmates can live out their entire life here in our California prisons waiting to die. Very few are dead and buried because they were put to death as they were sentenced to be. Keep these revolving criminals out of society. If that had happened in the past, Richard Allen Davis and Phillip Garrido would not have been able to commit the heinous life damaging crimes they were given the freedom to carry out. All because a few people on a parole board thought these predators had been rehabilitated in our prison system. Measures 34, 35 and 36 are important for our communities to feel the criminals will be held accountable for their actions and so will those who have been voted into office to fulfill their duties for the safety of all the people.

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