The Jan. 11 editorial "Lawyers for Death Row" made me ask: Are the appeals for life by Virginia prisoners sentenced to death meant to be meaningless efforts that only give the illusion of due process and justice?
I say this because, as indicated in the editorial, Virginia ranks 49th among the states in reimbursements to court-appointed attorneys. And these attorneys are allowed about $700 or less to defend their clients in death-sentencing trials.
With such paltry payments how can they obtain investigators, experts and witnesses for an adequate defense? And these court-appointed attorneys often have no capital trial experience, so they can make mistakes. This lack of adequate court-appointed defense counsel may have resulted in two death-row prisoners' defending themselves. How can one inexperienced attorney with $700 defend a man's life against state prosecutors with, relatively speaking, unlimited resources and legal assistance?
In addition to Virginia's not providing legal counsel to death-sentenced prisoners pursuing habeas corpus appeals, attorneys in Virginia are not interested in providing pro bono legal assistance to these indigent prisoners. Even with such groups as the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia and the Virginia Coalition on Jails and Prisons and others continually trying to find attorneys to help the condemned with their appeals, they have found only a couple of lawyers willing to make appeals available to these poor prisoners.
And there is also Virginia's "contemporaneous objection rule," which prohibits from appeals any inadequacies, omissions and wrongs committed at original trials. Other states exempt death-sentenced prisoners from this rule.
Given all this judicial unfairness, and the estimated $378 million revenue surplus for the state over the next three years and what appears to be vindictive legislative stinginess, we Virginians have a lot to be ashamed of when it comes to killing our indigent prisoners.
The saddest part to all of this is that by the time the Virginia legislators get around to doing anything about these unfairnesses, if they ever do, more prisoners will have been executed unnecessarily.
WILLIAM P. MENZA