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San Diego Law Enforcement Defends Death Penalty

— The County Administration Building provided a backdrop today for people who came out to affirm their support of the California death penalty. Members of San Diego law enforcement groups and the families of murder victims urged a "no" vote on Proposition 34, which would repeal the death penalty in the state.

“What this is really all about is honoring the families of the victims and providing justice,” said Bonnie Dumanis, the San Diego County District Attorney.

Those who spoke at the morning press conference said voters would diminish California's system of justice if they eliminated the punishment of death for the "worst of the worst." Dumanis singled out child rapists and serial killers when she spoke of that class of criminal.

Police Association leaders said eliminating the death penalty would endanger officers on the street. The murder of a police officer is one of the special circumstances that makes murder punishable by death.

Phyllis Loya spoke of her son, a police officer, who was murdered in 2005. His killer is on death row.

“I would have never envisioned that some day I would be standing before reporters, pleading for justice for my son,” she said as she held back tears.

But critics have called the death penalty dysfunctional: a broken system that can't be fixed. Even Dumanis has called the death penalty a “hollow promise” to victims’ families. She made the comment in 2010 when she chose to settle for life in prison without the possibility of parole for John Gardner, who confessed to the rape and murder of two teenage girls.

The death penalty process is mired in delays, and California hasn’t executed anyone for six years. Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978, California has condemned nearly 900 people to death. Only 13 of them have actually be executed.

But Dumanis said it doesn’t have to be that way.

“There are ways to fix it. We can mend it, not end it,” she said.

State Senator Joel Anderson, who represents eastern San Diego County, showed up at the press conference. He has proposed reforms of the California death penalty such as removing the automatic appeal that's required for death cases.

But death penalty opponents like law professor Justin Brooks say creating an efficient death penalty is highly unlikely.

“We’ve had this remedy for decades," said Brooks. "And we’ve been unable to make it efficient, and we’ve been unable to make it perfect so innocent people don’t get caught up in it.”

Prop 34 on the November ballot would replace the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole.

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