Mike Farrell Fights to End Death Penalty

Mike Farrell

How ‘MASH’ actor Mike Farrell became a leading voice against the death penalty in California

The day in 1979 that Tennessee Rev. Joe Ingle landed in Los Angeles and made his way to the set of the popular television series “MASH,” he wasn’t starstruck. He was angry.

As he drove his rental car through the Santa Monica Mountains to the sprawling 20th Century Fox Ranch near Malibu Canyon, Ingle thought of  John Spenkelink, a death row inmate. After years of talks with politicians, countless legal filings and many sleepless nights, the state of Florida put his close friend to death in the electric chair, Ingle said.

“We had 220 people on death row in Florida at the time, and many of them had no lawyers,” the United Church of Christ minister said. “We were up against a state machinery of killing that was engaging in full gear, and we could see what was coming.”

Over the past four decades, Farrell, who has wielded his celebrity to bring attention to social and political issues in Central America, the Middle East and Africa, has become a leading voice against the death penalty.

Ingle said he thought  “MASH” actor Mike Farrell, who had risen to fame as the warm and charismatic Capt. B.J. Hunnicutt, could help the anti-death penalty cause given his stated opposition to executions in a magazine interview. Farrell ended up doing more than that.

Over the past four decades, Farrell, who has wielded his celebrity to bring attention to social and political issues in Central America, the Middle East and Africa, has become a leading voice against the death penalty. This year, he is the author of a ballot measure that seeks to end capital punishment in California. For Farrell, the cause has taken precedence over others because at its root, he says, is the idea that some people are dispensable.

“We have determined that some human beings are not human, are not worthwhile or capable, and that we can just do away with them,” he said. “If you set up that belief system in a society, you can justify torture, assassinations by drone, just about anything.”

The death penalty has been in place continuously in California for almost 40 years, though executions were suspended in 2006 after the current method for lethal injection was challenged in court.

A federal judge in July 2014 ruled the system unconstitutional, finding it arbitrary and ridden with delay. But the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision in November.

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Jazmine Ulloa
Los Angeles Times