Susan Atkins: I'm a Political Prisoner

"Former Charles Manson disciple and convicted murderer Susan Atkins is suing Gov. Gray Davis, contending his policy opposing for nearly all murderers has made her a political prisoner." Atkins is right about Gov. Davis's policy.

"Soon after he took office, Gov. Gray Davis told a newspaper reporter that any inmate serving time for murder in California was not going to get out during his watch. " He's kept his word. "What the governor is doing is fundamentally unlawful -- but politically astute," said Franklin Zimring, a criminal law professor at Berkeley's Boalt School of Law. Prisoners -- especially those convicted of murder -- don't have a large voter constituency, he said. "

"The governor's policy, his critics say, has turned every murderer's sentence into life without possibility of, regardless of any mitigating factors. "

Both the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle have criticized Davis for his anti-parole stance for murderers.

Last year the Board, hardly a liberal group, granted parole to 140 inmates. Davis vetoed all but two. "When a judge issues a sentence that includes the words "with possibility of," it reflects our society's belief that a small number of criminals can be rehabilitated, as well as our constitutional right to a fair and impartial hearing. One of the important reasons for a system is to give inmates a strong incentive to follow the rules and to turn their lives around."

Nonetheless, we doubt Ms. Atkins will have any more luck than fellow former Manson devotee Leslie Van Houten, even though both of them have been model prisoners.

The Judge ordered the Board to give her [Van Houten] a new hearing and to consider her model prison behavior and not just the severity of the offense. If only the severity of the crime were considered, her sentence effectively would be a life sentence without instead of the-eligible life sentence she received. The board has been ordered to tell Van Houten what it is she must do to get if they deny her again.

[Note: The board gave Van Houten another hearing in June, 2002, and denied her for the 14th time. And last year, the California Supreme Court upheld the governor's authority to block the of convicted murderers.]

Atkins is taking a different legal approach. She has filed a federal civil rights action seeking $1.1 million in punitive and other damages, as well as her freedom. The state claims it has immunity and has filed a motion to dismiss. A hearing has been set for June 30, but the Judge has said he will rule based on the pleadings without holding oral argument. Atkins has served 33 years of her parolable life sentence. Her lawyer says if she wins any money in the lawsuit, she will donate it to crime victims.

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