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Politics

KCBS In Depth: California Voters To Decide On Death Penalty

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San Quentin execution chamber

The refurbished death chamber at San Quentin State Prison. (CBS)

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SACRAMENTO (KCBS/AP) — Support is growing to end California’s death penalty, but backers of an initiative on Tuesday’s ballot still lack the majority needed to pass it.

Field Poll results released last week show that 45 percent of likely voters support Proposition 34, which would end executions in favor of life imprisonment without parole. Thirty-eight percent oppose the measure, while nearly 1 in 5 voters remains undecided.

“I’m a proponent to replace the death penalty in the state of California because of my experience with the death penalty,” said Jeanne Woodford, Executive Director of Death Penalty Focus and former Warden of San Quentin State Prison.

“I started at San Quentin State Prison in 1978. There were six inmates on Death Row. And today, there are three of those that are still on Death Row, and one actually died a month or so ago of natural causes and the others had their sentences overturned.”

“I watched Death Row grow from those six inmates to where we are today, 727 people on Death Row,” she continued. “I was at San Quentin for over 26 years and during that time I saw 84 inmates die of natural causes, a few by suicide. And then almost 100 others had their sentences overturned after years of appeals.”

“So I know how broken the death penalty is and how costly it is,” Woodford said.

KCBS In Depth:

“Jeanne’s a wonderful person who has some very good arguments but they are not persuasive,” responded Prop 34 opponent Stephen M. Wagstaffe, San Mateo County District Attorney. “The problem with Prop 34 is that it is an illusory promise of saving money. It is totally speculative, the ranges of money to be saved are as high as $185 million and as low as $100 million, and the Legislative Analyst himself said it really is something we can’t be sure what the savings are.”

“Secondly,” Wagstaffe continued, “it would end the death penalty and that is bad for public safety in the State of California. The reason for that is that for the worst of crimes, the worst murderers, not all murderers are eligible, less than 2% of murderers can be eligible for this and for some of those crimes it is simply these evil people deserve something more in terms of punishment.

“What do I mean by that? What it means is that if Prop 34 passes this coming Tuesday, it means people such as Richard Ramirez and the killer of Polly Klaas, Richard Allen Davis, and I can go through the people from our county, I think anybody hearing their stories would say these are horribly evil people and they deserve a higher level of punishment than the 20 year-old man who goes into a grocery store and shoots and kills the clerk, that person will get life without parole, appropriately under our law.”

For these horrible killers, there needs to be something more for there to be good public safety in this state.”

You can hear KCBS In Depth, a weekly half-hour news interview, Saturdays at 5:30a.m. and Sundays at 8:30 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. on KCBS All News 740AM and 106.9FM.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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