Richard Ramirez, whose horrific crimes terrified residents of Southern California and beyond in the 1980s, died in San Quentin's Death Row today of natural causes. The AP reports:
Ramirez, 53, had been taken from San Quentin's death row to a hospital where authorities said he died of liver failure.
He had been housed on death row for decades and was awaiting execution, even though it has been years since anyone has been put to death in California.
At his first court appearance, Ramirez raised a hand with a pentagram drawn on it and yelled, "Hail, Satan."
His marathon trial, which ended in 1989, was a horror show in which jurors heard about one victim's eyes being gouged out and another's head being nearly severed. Courtroom observers wept when survivors of some of the attacks testified.
Ramirez was convicted of 13 murders that terrorized Southern California in 1984 and 1985 as well as charges of rape, sodomy, oral copulation, burglary and attempted murder.
This makes Ramirez the 85th inmate to die of natural causes on Death Row in San Quentin. By comparison, since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 2006, only 13 inmates were executed. Earlier this week I explained on CBS-5 news that the death penalty in California has become, essentially, a very expensive version of life without parole.
My heart aches today for the families of Ramirez's many victims, some of whom may have waited and hoped to see him executed. We may disagree about the substantive issue of the merits of the death penalty, but if anyone was deserving of such a cruel fate, it was Ramirez. But since we cannot, in modernity, deliver the promise of swift death without risking the execution of innocents (the new developments in Florida raise serious concerns about the prospect of mistakes), maybe it's time to settle, as closure, for what we're doing anyway: Life without parole, without expensive incarceration conditions in a dilapidated, outdated facility, and without endless and costly state-funded appellate litigation.