Interview with James Horton released from prison in CA after spending years on death row and years more serving LWOP
“In a level four prison, there are no programs – there is nothing there except riots, misery, hatred and mentally ill people.”
This is an interview with James Horton who was released from prison in California in 2010 after spending years on death row and years more serving a life without the possibility of parole sentence. Pat Foley, a board member of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty (CEDP) and activist in the Bay Area, conducted this interview.
James, you spent over 27 years in prison, 12 of them on death row at San Quentin in California. Can you tell us about that and how you came to be released?
I was found guilty in 1985 and sentenced to death. In 1996, my case was finally heard before the California Supreme Court. It threw out the death sentence because the evidence that the prosecution had used from an old case in Chicago was found to be based on an illegal conviction. So the court threw out the death sentence and gave me life without the possibility of parole.
I was still going through the appeal process, and in 2006, at an evidentiary hearing, it was discovered that the witness who testified against me had received a deal. He had a two-year suspended sentence over his head, and they threatened him and then gave him a deal.
On March 9, 2006, the court ruled in my favor that this had been a Brady violation, because they had not disclosed the immunity deal. They threw out the conviction. I was transferred to LA County Jail, and the district attorney finally decided to reduce the charge to manslaughter. I served nine additional months on that sentence and was released on December 30, 2010.
Do you think that life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) is a just replacement for the death peanlty?
No, and this is the reason: In California, when someone has a sentence of, for sxample, 15 to 25 years, and they do what they are supposed to do inside and turn their life around, the parole board is still not letting them out. And in the cases where they do say they can get out, the governor is saying no.
So, it really doesn’t matter whether you get LWOP or not – either way, you are not gettin gout in California.
The sentence of life without the possibility of parole is just saying that the person is so deeply rotten that there is no way they can be a healthy, sane and intelligent person ever in their lirfe. And that is not the case. It just keeps a person locked up.
When you get LWOP you can never go to lower than a level four prison. And in a level four prison, there are no programs – there is nothing there except riots, misery, hatred and mentally ill people. No programs or vocational programs.
They are like the old prisons – like Alcatraz, Sing Sing. The only difference is you have a TV. That’s it – you just sit there to rot away. They should do away with both the death penalty and LWOP.
If a person changes their ways inside prison and does all the things the parole board asks them to do, they should be granted parole.
For some people inside prison, it can take awhile to snap to the reality that if they want something different in the cooking pot of their life, they are going to have to use different ingredients if they want life to taste better. It shows our lack of intelligence if we think that locking people up is going to solve the problem. We ned to end both the death penalty and life without parole.
What do you want to tell people about the death penalty?
That it’s not a deterrent. All you have to do is look at Texas. They execute more peopl in Texas then anywhere else, and yet it has the highest murder and crime rates. If it was a deterrent, you would see a defference in Texas, but you don’t.
All the death penalty does is waste money. If we didn’t have the death penalty in California, we could have money for many other things we need to do in this state, like education jobs and child care.
James can be reached at: email@example.com
Published inNewsletter of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty The New Abolitionist November 2011, Issue 55