Thursday, July 10, 2008

We Missed The LA Times Editorial on Sadie

No mercy for Tate murderer

Susan Atkins seeks release from prison because she is dying. But she deserves her sentence.
June 18, 2008

To allow Susan Atkins to die at home would be an act of mercy -- but not of justice. By the terms of justice, she forfeited her claim to freedom on an August night in 1969 when she murdered Sharon Tate. Tate begged for her life; Atkins slit her throat and then wrote "PIG" on the front door in the slain woman's blood. For her part in that and other ghoulish sprees as a member of the Manson family, Atkins was sentenced to die, only to be spared in 1972 when the state Supreme Court abolished the death penalty. Now, facing her own mortality, she seeks compassionate release. Her case thus frames two competing imperatives of the penal system -- the right of society to demand justice and the desire of humans to grant mercy.

As readers of this page know, we oppose the death penalty under all circumstances. Over the years, that conviction has led us to oppose the executions of many vile men and women, with one glaring exception -- that of Timothy McVeigh, whose punishment we welcomed in 1997. We now regret that editorial and have since returned to our steadfast opposition to state-sanctioned murder.

To oppose capital punishment, however, is not to oppose the notion that some people deserve to die in prison. Atkins has spent 37 years in custody, longer than any other woman in California's system. After so much time, the horror of her deeds as a young woman has given way to her own slow demise. She lost a leg and now suffers from terminal brain cancer. Given her fate, Atkins has attracted the sympathy of some who once actively condemned her crimes, notably Vincent Bugliosi, who prosecuted the Manson family. He and others argue that it is pointless -- a burden on taxpayers and an act without penal significance -- to allow Atkins to deteriorate and die behind bars.

Our system of justice attempts three noble aims: punishment, protection of society and deterrence (some would add rehabilitation). Atkins poses no physical threat to society. Her sentence and time in prison undoubtedly have sent a deterrent message to any would-be Mansonite still lurking out there. And she may well have been rehabilitated: While serving her sentence, Atkins has written a book, explored religions, taught classes. Has she been punished? Yes, of course; 37 years is not trivial. But Atkins gravely wounded our collective peace, and society has the right, even the obligation, to exact vengeance. For some criminals, including Atkins, the crime is so great that the price should be imprisonment until death.

Atkins rejected Tate's plea for mercy and now asks for ours. We do not support the government's right to kill her, but we would not grant her mercy either.


Pristash said...

I posted these already once before, but no one commented, so either people missed it or nobody really cares. Whatever, here they be again in lieu of the Col's recent post:

Interesting letters to the Editor of the LA Times after they published their "No Mercy for Tate Killer" editorial. I wrote my own letter but it hasn't been published.

Why punish taxpayers?

Re "No mercy," editorial, June 18

The problem with your editorial dismissing compassionate release for Manson family killer Susan Atkins (who is dying of cancer) is that it advocates punishing taxpayers to no productive end. The editorial correctly points out that we've already taken Atkins' productive life away from her, which, considering her crimes, was fully appropriate and quite enough. Now that she has so little time left, all we're doing by keeping her incarcerated is paying to provide her with free room, board and healthcare. Who exactly does that punish?

Sometimes standing on rigid ceremony is a waste of everyone's time and money. Requiring a cancer victim to die in prison on the public's dime for symbolic purposes does nothing for public safety or crime prevention, and we have better things to spend the money on in these difficult times.

Jim Bickhart


I was the psychologist at the California Institution for Women for a time and got to know Atkins moderately well. To this day, I do not trust testimony she gave in court because she was starving for acceptance, and I believe she altered her testimony to curry favor with others in the Manson group. She was of age, but I do not think she was fully competent.

In any case, I believe that the criterion for releasing an inmate back into the community should be potential danger to the community. There should be no other criterion, least of all revenge. At the present time, it is clear that Atkins would be no danger to the community. She should be out among us, to smell the fresh air so to speak, before she is laid to rest.

Jerrold Cohen

Seal Beach

6:19 AM, June 23, 2008

Pristash said...

And just for the fun of it, let me share with you my letter in response which they didn't deem worthy enough to publish:

To the Editor:

It is unbelievable to me that the LA Times can get the facts wrong about one of the most notorious murders in history which occurred right in your own neighborhood and which you have extensively covered now for almost 40 years. Your sentiments regarding the release of Susan Atkins are certainly reasonable, however the public deserves some basic journalistic standards which includes fact checking before you publish any article, Op-Ed pieces included.

Sharon Tate was murdered indeed, stabbed to death by Tex Watson while Susan Atkins restrained her. Watson himself has admitted as much at his own parole hearings. Susan Atkins, as an admittedly willing participant, is indeed just as guilty of the crime as Watson. However, despite her sister Debra Tate's recent claim, Sharon Tate's throat was not slit - a fact easily found in the public records of the case. It is absolutely incredible that no one at the LA Times editorial board apparently knows as much.

Your opinions regarding vengeance and Atkins debt to society are well-considered, and Atkins herself may very well agree with you. The fact is she herself has asked for no mercy in this regard. The plea for compassionate release on her behalf has been made by her California State Doctors.

Please try to do better in the future.