Death penalty mitigation offers juries a chance to see defendants in a different light
by Maura Ewing, The Appeal
The odds were stacked against Ernesto Martinez. Last fall, he was on trial for a capital offense in a place that has distinguished itself as a leader in condemning people to death: Riverside, California, a populous county just south of Los Angeles. For two out of the past three years, juries there have handed down the highest number of death sentences in the country, with five last year. According to the Death Penalty Information Center’s annual report, Riverside and two other jurisdictions—Clark, Nevada and Maricopa, Arizona—together imposed over 30 percent of the country’s death sentences in 2017.
Just two months before a jury would decide his fate, Martinez said, nobody was working to make the argument that he should live. “Riverside County is handing out death sentences left and right,” he told The Appeal in a phone interview from prison. “It started to make sense as to why.”
It took over two decades for his case to wind into a Riverside courtroom. In 1995, when Martinez was 19, he allegedly killed a cop on the side of an Arizona ...