It was over 40 years ago when a jury in California returned guilty verdicts on all eight charges for the infamous Charles Manson. Seven murder charges and one conspiracy charge gave Manson a punishment of death. But, four decades later, Manson still lives.
Aprill 11, 2012 the parole board in California again, for the dozenth time since 1978, decided Manson was too great a danger to be released from prison. And in the minds of most Americans, rightly so. From numerous burglaries, robberies, and escapes from juvenile detentions, Manson was a danger at the age of thirteen.
Manson's Helter Skelter murders shocked the nation.
So why is Manson still a resident of the Corcoran State Prison after being sentenced to death? Manson was given the death penalty in 1971. It was only one year later, in 1972, that the United States Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional in Furman v. Georgia. With the penalty of death being unconstitutional, any inmate awaiting an execution was now given the sentence of life in prison. Manson was one of the lucky prisoners in which their death penalty was converted to life behind bars.
The Supreme Court did not declare the death penalty as violating the constitution on its face, but rather in its application. Pre 1972, the death penalty was imposed in an arbitrary manner; often indicating a bias against minority defendants. The discriminatory nature of the death penalty thus violated the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. It was not until 1976 in Gregg v. Georgia when the Court held that the punishment of death did not violate the constitution in all circumstances. It was decided in Gregg that with a careful and judicious use of the death penalty, it may be an appropriate punishment for a defendant in extreme criminal cases.
Currently, Texas keeps the employment of the death penalty within the limits of the constitution by a bifurcated proceeding where the trial and sentencing are conducted separately. Once a jury finds a defendant guilty of a capital murder, they must then find the defendant worthy of the death penalty. Texas jurors are asked to answer "special issue" questions. The first question Texas jurors must answer is whether the defendant will be a future danger. The second question is whether the defendant actually killed the deceased, intended to kill the deceased, or anticipated that a human life be taken. And the third question asks whether there is anything regarding the defendant that would warrant a life sentence rather than death [mitigating factors].
Today the death penalty is carefully and individually applied in order to abide by the Constitution. Charles Manson escaped his execution with the help of the Supreme Court, but the state of California continues to keep him behind bars. Manson's next parole hearing will be in 15 years and he will be 92 years old.