There are two main arguments death-penalty backers invoke when pressing for an execution: avenging the suffering of the victim’s family and saving taxpayers the cost of lifelong incarceration.
Neither one stands up in the case of Jaturun Siripongs, a Thai national scheduled to die by lethal injection at San Quentin on November 17.
Siripongs, a 43-year-old former Buddhist monk, was convicted in 1983 of the murders of two employees at a Thai market in Orange County and sentenced to death. In October, the last of his appeals was denied. Now, barring any unforeseen appeals, Siripongs can only be saved if Governor Pete Wilson grants clemency.
In the past two weeks, Wilson has received several crucial letters asking him to exercise that power. The first came from Surachai Wattanaporn, the husband of one of the victims. "These event had tormented effect my life and my children life but we had outcome those difficult time," he writes in broken English. "As a Buddhist, I do not seek revenge for my wife’s death and ask you to please consider exercising mercy in this case." The widow of the other victim has stated in a television documentary that she, too, wants the state to spare Siripongs’ life.
Wilson also got letters from the Thai ambassador to the United States and the Thai foreign-affairs minister. Both pleaded for clemency and, in the event it should be granted, offered to transfer Siripongs to Thailand to serve out his life term, thus saving California taxpayers the cost of his imprisonment.
In the end, though, it is not the wishes of the Thai government or the victims’ families that will likely hold sway with Wilson. Instead, he will consider the recommendation of the Board of Prison Terms, which meets on Monday, November 9, in San Diego.
Since the death penalty was reinstated in California in 1977, the board has never recommended clemency, and Wilson has never granted it.