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Politics

Californians Favor Reform Of Death Penalty Over Repeal

The view a condemned inmate would have from a table inside the death chamber of the lethal injection facility at San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, Sept. 21, 2010.
Associated Press
The view a condemned inmate would have from a table inside the death chamber of the lethal injection facility at San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, Sept. 21, 2010.

The death penalty will remain on the books in California, with voters rejecting a bid to abolish the punishment, but a competing measure designed to speed up executions was too close to call.

Proposition 62 would have repealed the death penalty and replaced it with life imprisonment without possibility of parole. The initiative would have applied retroactively to people already sentenced to death, and would have required prisoners serving life sentences without the possibility of parole for murder to work while in prison.

Passage of the initiative would have resulted in a net reduction in state and local government costs of potentially around $150 million annually within a few years, according to an analysis conducted by the Legislative Analyst's Office and Department of Finance.

"Because of all the problems with the death penalty, not a single person has been executed here in the last 10 years. Nonetheless, Californians continue to pay for it in many ways," said initiative proponent Mike Farrell, a longtime death penalty opponent best known for his portrayal of Army Capt. B.J. Hunnicutt on the classic 1972-83 CBS comedy "M*ASH."

"Whether you look at the death penalty from a taxpayer, a criminal justice or a civil rights perspective, what is clear is that it fails in every respect. We have to do better in California," he said.

Meanwhile, voters were narrowly backing Proposition 66, which would not only maintain the death penalty, but take steps to expedite appeals to quicken the pace of executions.

The proposal would direct initial death-sentence appeals to a superior court judge, and limit the number of successive appeals. It would also establish a timeline for appeals, widen the field of appointed attorneys to handle death penalty appeals, and authorize the transfer of death row inmates among state prisons.

The last execution carried out in California was in 2006. Executions have been put on hold because of a 9th Circuit ruling requiring a medical professional to administer lethal injection drugs.

"We agree California's current death penalty system is broken," proponents of Proposition 66, including Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey, contend in a ballot argument. "The most heinous criminals sit on death row for 30 years, with endless appeals delaying justice and costing taxpayers hundreds of millions.

"It does not need to be this way. The solution is to mend, not end, California's death penalty."

A measure to repeal the death penalty on the November 2012 ballot was rejected by a 52 percent-48 percent margin.