gavel scales

If you believe in the criminal justice system, file this under good news: The Arizona Department of Corrections recently issued a press release reporting it’s once again ready to execute some of the 115 murderers housed on death row.

“At the direction of Gov. Doug Ducey, (Corrections) has been working diligently to obtain the drugs necessary to implement executions in the state of Arizona, and to identify sources to prepare the drugs in compliance with Arizona law,” the release explained. “(Corrections) stands ready, with the Attorney General’s Office, to administer justice.”

It’s about time. Some of these murderous scumbags have been on death row for decades.

Like Ernesto Salgado Martinez, sentenced to death in 1998 for the 1995 cold-blooded execution of legendary Arizona state trooper Bob Martin. Martinez was speeding along the Beeline Highway 7 miles north of Shea Boulevard when he passed Martin, a 28-year Department of Public Safety veteran known by his colleagues as “Mother Martin” for the way he took care of his fellow cops.

As Martin approached the stolen Monte Carlo Martinez was driving, Martinez fired four times. Martin died at the scene from a fatal chest wound, lying face up in the middle of the highway he patrolled for more than 20 years. 

Martinez was captured a day later in California, though not before he murdered a convenience store clerk in Blythe. He used Martin’s service weapon to commit that murder.

Even on death row, Martinez hasn’t been idle. His prison record shows 27 disciplinary infractions, including multiple assaults and weapons charges.

I’ve heard all the arguments against the death penalty over the years. None of them justify allowing Martinez to escape ultimate justice for a quarter century.

There’s zero doubt Martinez committed this murder. He has exhausted every last appeal — as have nearly two dozen death row residents. He’s even been gifted with an additional seven years of life while anti-death-penalty attorneys thumb-wrestled with the state in a silly lawsuit over which drugs can be used to execute inmates.

On an April day 23 years ago, I witnessed Jose Roberto Villafuerte receive lethal injection for the murder of Amelia Schoville. Villafuerte hog-tied his victim, then raped her. Schoville choked to death on the grimy sheet he stuffed down her throat to keep her quiet.

Villafuerte enjoyed a sumptuous repast of broiled chicken, tortillas and rice before he was sent off the great beyond.

The following year, I witnessed Michael Poland get a lethal needle. Poland chose breakfast food for his last meal — eggs sunny side up, bacon, hash browns, toast and Raisin Bran.

I often wonder why we bother letting the condemned choose what to eat. It would have been far more fitting to read to Poland short biographies of the two men he and his brother Patrick killed: Cecil Newkirk and Russell Dempsey, armored car guards the Polands kidnapped, beat, tasered, stuffed in canvas bags and dumped in Lake Mead to drown.

Villafuerte and Poland seemed to doze off as the poison surged toward their hearts. It was a peaceful end for both men, unlike the mayhem they visited on their victims and nothing like the so-called “botched” executions often held up as reasons to abandon the death penalty. 

Our system of justice is predicated on balance. Scales have long been the metaphor of choice for what happens in our courtrooms. 

Anything short of execution for the murderers on death row, in my mind, leaves these scales out of whack.

Ernesto Salgado Martinez and his 114 friends long ago forfeited their lives when they committed murder in the most heinous ways imaginable.

The state says it’s ready to mete justice. Let’s dispatch these killers into the hereafter.