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East Bay Lawmaker’s Bill Would Abolish California Death Penalty

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SACRAMENTO (CBS SF) — State Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Oakland, introduced legislation Monday that would replace the death penalty in California with permanent imprisonment, which she called “an expensive failure.”

Hancock said the state’s budget problems and a new study that calls the death penalty a multi-billion-dollar “debacle” are the reasons she’s seeking to abolish the death penalty in California at this time.

The report, which was written by U.S. 9th Circuit Judge Arthur L. Alarcon, a former prosecutor, and Loyola Law School professor Paula M. Mitchell, and is being published in the Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review this week, said the cost of maintaining the current total of 714 death row inmates is $184 million a year more than what taxpayers would spend without the death penalty.

It said that $4 billion of state and federal taxpayer money has been expended administering the death penalty since the state reinstated it in 1978 but only 13 death row inmates have been executed in that time.

Hancock said 35 death row inmates have died of natural causes since 1978 and 18 other inmates have committed suicide.

Hancock said if the state abolished the death penalty and saved $184 million a year, “We could send a lot of kids to college on full scholarships.”

Hancock said she wants to redirect the funds currently spent on the death penalty to other programs because she is “heartsick about the dreadful cuts to health and services programs” and other state programs.

Hancock said she does not think the death penalty is effective in preventing serious crimes, and the law review report supports her view.

“The death penalty is not deterring crime, because generally it is sociopaths and mentally ill people who are committing murders and they aren’t making calculated decisions about their actions,” she said.

If it were to be approved, Hancock’s bill not only would abolish the death penalty for future crimes but would also convert death penalty sentences for people already on death row to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Hancock, who is chair of the Senate Public Safety Committee and the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Corrections, which oversees funding for the prison system, said her bill is expected to have its first hearing in the Assembly Public Safety Committee on July 5.

She said she hopes the state Legislature will vote later this year or early next year to place it on the November 2012 ballot so the state’s voters can make a decision.

Scott Thorpe, the chief executive of the California District Attorneys Association, said the organization will study Hancock’s bill but would oppose any effort to change the sentences for inmates already on death row.

Thorpe said there would be significant constitutional issues if the state Legislature made such a change.

Thorpe admitted that it is expensive to administer the death penalty but said it would be less costly if the lengthy appeal process for convicted murderers could be streamlined.

California has not executed a death row inmate since Jan. 17, 2006, mainly because of ongoing litigation challenging its lethal injection procedures.

In an interesting twist, Hancock, who is married to Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, is the stepmother of Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Casey Bates, who has prosecuted many high-profile murder cases and currently is prosecuting two women accused of murdering 91-year-old Selma Hill in Dublin two years ago.

Asked if she has spoken to her stepson about her bill, Hancock said she has not.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)

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