James Fayed's crime was as heinous as they come: Last summer, the wealthy businessman admitted to a Los Angeles jail mate that he'd paid several men to murder 44-year-old Pamela Fayed, his estranged wife, in a Century City parking garage in 2008. (The couple was in the throes of a nasty — and expensive — divorce at the time.)
The crime was also incredibly sloppy. As Fayed relayed it to his bugged jail mate, three hooded hitmen drove up to the victim in a conspicuous red SUV that had reportedly been rented out by the Fayeds' company. So the jury's death-penalty verdict last June, and the judge's rejection today of Fayed's appeal, come as little surprise.
The jury was unanimous. And L.A. Superior Court judge Kathleen Kennedy sticks with the harsh ruling today, rejecting his request for a new trial and a sentence of “life in prison without the possibility of parole,” according to CBS LA.
But what does that even mean these days, to be on death row?
Steve Meister, one of the wife-killer's attorneys, may have had a point when he argued to Los Angeles Times reporters outside the courthouse “that long delays in bringing California's death row inmates to execution would probably mean that his client — who is overweight, in poor health and suffering from depression — would never be put to death.”
And until then, the cost of keeping Fayed on death row could be staggering. A recent analysis of California's failing capital-punishment system by a 9th circuit judge and a reputed attorney found that “taxpayers have spent more than $4 billion on capital punishment in California since it was reinstated in 1978, or about $308 million for each of the 13 executions carried out since then.”
How ironic: That this loaded Los Angeles gold trader will now be showered in millions for ordering a brutal murder. (Maybe Riverside County is onto something in proposing that prisoners pay a steep fee for their cramped cots and terrible meals?)
Anti-death-penalty petitioners are currently making their rounds (outside grocery stores, on college campuses, etc.) to get an initiative on the 2012 ballot that would grant Fayed, and other death-sentenced prisoners, exactly what they're begging for: life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Back when Georgia convict Troy Davis was executed by the government for a crime many believe he didn't commit, we called up Don Heller, the attorney who authored the California death penalty — but has since become its No. 1 opponent — for comment.
Though that conversation had more to do with the downsides of the death penalty if innocence is still a possibility (which it clearly isn't, in Fayed's case), Heller said that in every case, the expenses of the program far outweigh any sweetness of revenge.
“When i first changed my view on capital punishment, the fiscal side of it was not something I was aware of, or thought about,” he said. “But when Judge Alcaron, who had access to the financial data, wrote that article, I was astonished.”
From the Los Angeles Times report on said article:
The authors outline three options for voters to end the current reality of spiraling costs and infrequent executions: fully preserve capital punishment with about $85 million more in funding for courts and lawyers each year; reduce the number of death penalty-eligible crimes for an annual savings of $55 million; or abolish capital punishment and save taxpayers about $1 billion every five or six years.
“From a functional perspetcive, the system is broken and it can never be remedied,” Heller told the Weekly. “Life without parole will protect the public from the person convicted” — really the core responsibility of any justice system.
What do you think? Is putting Fayed on death row worth for California it in the long run?