Our View: No on Prop. 34 – repeal of death penalty
There is no question that the death penalty is a difficult issue. It involves the taking of a human life. In California, it also is applied only against someone convicted of first-degree murder combined with "special circumstances," such as multiple murder, murder during torture, rape, robbery or the killing of a witness. A killer in a bar fight typically is not executed.
On the Nov. 6 ballot, Proposition 34 is described as the End the Death Penalty Initiative. If voters agree, California no longer would have a death penalty. The highest penalty would become "life in prison without the possibility of parole." The 700-plus inmates on death row would have their sentences reduced to prison without parole.
Favoring Prop. 34 was Gil Garcetti, the former Los Angeles County district attorney best remembered for his office's failed prosecution of O.J. Simpson for a double murder. Garcetti, a former backer of the death penalty whose office put murderers on death row, now opposes capital punishment. "It doesn't serve any useful purpose," he said.
Garcetti pointed out that those on death row are more likely to die of old age than of a lethal injection. Since the death penalty was restored in 1992, only 13 people have been executed. The most recent, in 2006, was triple murderer Clarence Ray Allen.
Maintaining so many people on death row comes with an additional cost of $130 million a year.
Among those we met opposing Prop. 34 were Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens and Susan Kang Schroeder, chief of staff to Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas. Hutchens said the system costs so much money because legal maneuvers by defense attorneys and death-penalty opponents "have made the process as long and difficult as possible."
About 2 percent of murder cases lead to the death penalty. The sheriff said, "The public has never been educated as to who is on death row." One of them is Richard Allen Davis, convicted and sentenced to death in 1996 for kidnapping, committing a lewd act on and murdering 12-year-old Polly Klaas in 1993. At his sentencing, he taunted the Klaas family. He reportedly receives fan mail from a teenage girl.
Schroeder said that, even if the death penalty is not carried out often in California, "we have to hold the line" on tough punishments. If prison without possibility of parole becomes the toughest penalty, then a slippery slope could develop in which lesser penalties could be imposed for heinous crimes. Eventually, we could end up like Norway, where Anders Behring Breivik murdered 69 people last year and was given that country's harshest penalty, 21 years in prison.
As to the death penalty deterring crime, both sides acknowledged that the research is mixed. Another concern is making sure the innocent are not executed by mistake.
As for saving tax money, effort would be better spent on reining in the pay, benefits and pensions won for prison guards by their union, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association.
Although we remain open to a future initiative ending the death penalty, for now we believe it serves a worthwhile purpose. We recommend a No vote on Prop. 34.