John Van de Kamp PHOTO: Evans Vestal Ward (John Van de Kamp)

A model approach

Long-time death penalty opponent John Van de Kamp honored for pioneering forensics work

By Justin Chapman 12/29/2011

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California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye recently echoed the findings of a panel headed by former state Attorney General John Van de Kamp of Pasadena, which found that implementation of capital punishment was costly and ineffective.
 
“It’s not working,” the judge, who was appointed by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, said in an interview with reporter Maura Dolan of the Los Angeles Times. “It’s not effective. We know that.”
 
Van de Kamp told the Weekly that Cantil-Sakauye, whom he described as a moderate to conservative chief justice, has raised major doubts about whether capital punishment should be continued. He went even further, calling the practice immoral.
“I personally have been opposed to the death penalty on a whole series of grounds,” he said, adding he supports recent efforts to put the issue before voters. “Beyond morality, what the chief justice is saying is what the previous chief justice said, that the death penalty today is dysfunctional and the cost has been enormous.”
 
In 2004, Van de Kamp headed the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, which found that abolishment of capital punishment would save the state more than $1 billion over five years.
 
Van de Kamp, who served as Los Angeles County District Attorney before being elected state attorney general in 1982, was recently inducted into the California Forensic Science Institute’s Hall of Fame for his work in “advancing forensic sciences as tools [such as the DNA database] to assist criminal prosecutions and exonerate the innocent throughout California,” LA County DA Steve Cooley said in a prepared statement.
 
Van de Kamp said his role in the area of forensics was as an administrator, not a scientist. “When I became attorney general, I put great stock and energy into trying to improve our law enforcement, crime labs, etc.  “My own work in this field is probably secondary in a sense, but I was a cheerleader and a proponent for these changes. Just as you need the scientists, you need people in high offices like I was to give support.”
 
When it comes to capital punishment, “I think even people who support the death penalty are recognizing that it’s not working as a deterrent in the way it’s been administered and that there are better ways to deal with this,” said Van de Kamp.

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