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Death Penalty Leaves Victims’ Families Dissatisfied

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There has been mixed reaction to confessed killer John Gardner's plea deal to escape the death penalty. Some believe death is the only just punishment for the man who raped and murdered two local girls. But executions don't always bring the closure victim's families hope for.

There has been mixed reaction to confessed killer John Gardner's plea deal to escape the death penalty. Some believe death is the only just punishment for the man who raped and murdered two local girls. But experts say executions don't always bring the closure victims' families hope for.

Richard Dieter has met a lot of murder victims' families. He is head of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington D.C., a group opposed to executions. He said the death penalty does not deliver on its promise of justice for families. In fact, he said, compared to the suffering their loved ones went through, the execution itself seemed hollow.

"It puts the person to sleep. It doesn't look painful. It doesn't even look like death," said Dieter. "It looks like a medical procedure. People sometimes are imagining that there will be some sort of balance to the grief they feel. And when they see an execution, it's unsatisfying."

And the process for a perpetrator to even get to an execution also leaves people dissatisfied. Former San Diego District Attorney Paul Pfingst says many victims' families no longer back capital punishment because years of multiple appeals on behalf of the convicted only add to their grief.

"We have so few executions in the state of California that promising satisfaction from having the killer of a loved one executed is a false promise."

That lengthy appeals process is cold comfort to those who desire swift and permanent justice.

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Amita Sharma
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs an investigative reporter for KPBS, I've helped expose political scandals and dug into intractable issues like sex trafficking. I've raised tough questions about how government treats foster kids. I've spotlighted the problem of pollution in poor neighborhoods. And I've chronicled corporate mistakes and how the public sometimes ends up paying for them.

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