Life, without possibility

November 2, 2010

Darrell Lomax, an innocent man on California's death row, responds to those who believe LWOP sentences are a "humane" alternative to the death penalty.

NOT LONG ago, I was invited to answer a question posed by someone out in the free world. The question was: "Is life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) a legitimate replacement for the death penalty, even if the only justification offered is to stop pending executions?"

My answer is a resounding "no." A sentence of LWOP is, in essence, the very same sentence as the death penalty. The purpose of both of these sentences is to ensure that the fate of the prisoner is to be murdered--by lethal injection or by incarceration.

There is no such thing as dying of natural causes in prison, when incarceration is unnatural for humans to be subjected to. It appears that the state, with the support of those who are in favor of the death penalty, has no qualms killing any male or female member of humanity by lethal injection.

It feels as though if the state were forced to do away with the death penalty, the "eye for an eye" philosophy would mean they would be willing to settle for seeing people receive life without the possibility of parole--which actually equates to a death sentence since it demands that someone spend the rest of their life behind bars, away from family, friends and freedom.

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The second part of the question "Is LWOP a legitimate replacement for the death penalty as a justification for stopping pending executions?" gets at another aspect we need to address. I'd like to remind people that I myself am an innocent man who has been wrongfully convicted by a dysfunctional and unreliable California justice system. I speak from the space of one voice of many who are in fact innocent and who face both the death penalty and life without possibility of parole.

I do not see LWOP as a legitimate replacement for the death penalty even if it stops pending executions. By saying this, I want to emphasize that it is not my intention to come across as if I am casting any hope-filled counter-spell against those who have exhausted their appeals and are facing an execution.

One of the reasons I am opposed to LWOP is that when someone is given a death sentence, they are entitled to a mandatory appeal and will be given a court-appointed attorney to appeal their conviction.

With a sentence of LWOP, however, a person is not entitled to an appellate attorney. While the wait for such an attorney for death row prisoners can be as long as six years after a conviction, and over 10 years for a habeas appeal attorney, it is still a mandatory part of the process.

I have been waiting nearly 16 years for my habeas attorney. I am not saying that, because of the mandatory appeals and attorneys, a death sentence is better than LWOP. However, it is critical that those who are wrongfully convicted get a chance to seek justice for themselves.

We live in a very sad world when getting a death sentence means you actually have a better chance of getting your case reviewed and overturning the conviction of an innocent person.

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