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California Proposition 34: Repealing death penalty

October 16, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
The decision over whether to repeal California's death penalty goes to the voters this year with Proposition 34. It's a debate that goes well beyond the sentence of life or death for convicted criminals.

San Quentin State Prison is home to the nation's largest death row, with more than 700 notorious criminals. Many have been there for decades exhausting every lengthy appeal to stay alive.

Since the death penalty was reinstated in California in 1978, only 14 people have been executed. Critics say that long, expensive wait for justice means the system's not working and that it's time to get rid of it through Proposition 34.

Former San Quentin warden Jeanne Woodford oversaw four executions.

"At the end of every execution, someone on my staff would say, 'Are we really safer tonight because of what we did?' And we never answered that question because we knew the answer was no," said Woodford, executive director of Death Penalty Focus, a non-profit organization focusing on alternatives to the death penalty.

If the death penalty is repealed, the harshest sentence murderers can get is life in prison with no possibility of ever getting out. The sentences of current condemned inmates would also be switched to life terms.

This debate is not easy for families who've lost loved ones to heinous crimes. Some say the death penalty is necessary for justice. Others don't want it.

Former NFL player Kermit Alexander wants the death penalty to remain intact. He can't wait for the execution of an L.A. gang member who brutally killed his mother, sister and two nephews after going to the wrong address for a hit.

"This was 1984. That's what we're dealing with," said Alexander. "And my family has lived in pain ever since. And it won't be over until this is over."

Lorrain Taylor has opposite feelings. Her twin sons were shot and killed in 2000 while repairing a car in Oakland. If the gunman is ever caught, she doesn't want him executed.

"I think that the death penalty is a broken promise," said Taylor. "I think that it sends the wrong message to the young people that revenge is justice."

Law enforcement continues to support capital punishment because they say it's a deterrent for criminals for going too far.

"They now know that without a death penalty, there's nothing else that could happen to them," said Scott Jones, California Sheriff's Association. "They're already on the hook for life without the possibility of parole."

The estimated $130 million a year saved from eliminating the death penalty will be used for more police officers and resources to solve and prevent crimes.

The general election is on November 6, 2012. Your vote can help decide many important issues for California. Over the next few weeks, Eyewitness News will focus on the propositions on the November ballot.


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