Although the Jan. 26 editorial ''Rehabilitation on Death Row'' pointed out that Joe Giarratano turned his life around even as he prepared to die by educating himself on criminal law and using his expertise to help others, it was incomplete.

A review of Mr. Giarratano's case shows that his defense during his trial and sentencing was inadequate. This is not surprising since Virginia pays court-appointed attorneys about $800 to defend capital defendants, and the lawyers are not experienced in capital cases. Mr. Giarratano's confessions were given when his mind was impaired by long-term alcoholism and drug addiction, and he was drugged with high doses of thorazine during his trial. This was used against him instead of showing he was incompetent to stand trial.

The reviews of Mr. Giarratano's appeals have for the most part been a sham, because Virginia's ''contemporaneous objection rule'' bars from appeal review any issue his trial attorney did not make a timely and proper objection to. Virginia is the only death-sentencing state that applies this rule in capital cases. This rule is the reason Virginia officials will not allow him to have a new trial.

As we in Virginia face cuts in transportation projects and education and social programs during these times of reduced state revenues and a $2 billion deficit, I keep thinking that each of our prisoner killings costs at least $1 million. With 11 executions since since 1982, two death-row suicides, about 45 men waiting to be killed and others on their way to death row, aren't we spending millions of dollars that could be put to much better use? WILLIAM P. MENZA Vienna