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California Voters May Soon Decide On Death Penalty Changes

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SACRAMENTO (CBS/AP) – Three former California governors announced a proposed ballot initiative Thursday designed to speed up the state’s lengthy death penalty process.

Former Govs. George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson and Gray Davis said they were launching a signature-gathering effort for the measure that would limit appeals available to death row inmates, remove the prisoners from special death row housing, and require them to work at prison jobs in order to pay restitution to victims.

The former governors, appearing with law enforcement officials at a news conference, made it clear they want executions to begin as soon as possible. There are more than 700 prisoners on California’s death row.

“Old age should not be the leading cause of death on death row,” former Gov. Pete Wilson said.

They agreed the death penalty system is crippled by waste and inefficiency.

“We all know the death penalty system is broken at the appellate level,” said former Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley.

His predecessor in that job, Gil Garcetti, is leading the opposition to the initiative and was a proponent of Proposition 34, the 2012 ballot measure that would have repealed the death penalty in California. The vote was 48 percent in favor and 52 percent opposed, one of the closest votes ever on a death penalty referendum.

A statement from the former governors said “Californians overwhelmingly reaffirmed their support for the death penalty” with the vote on Prop. 34.

Executions have been halted since 2006 because of lawsuits in federal and state courts over changing a three-drug lethal-injection method that had been used to carry out death sentences.

Asked about the availability of drugs to carry out executions, the governors said they could not comment and that would be an issue for the California Department of Corrections.

Two relatives of victims spoke and decried the length of time it takes to resolve a death penalty appeal. Phyllis Loya said it took four years for an attorney to be assigned to a man convicted of killing her son.

Davis said it can take 10 years before a federal application for review of a death penalty case is resolved and another 10 years to clear state appellate courts.

San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael Ramos, representing the California District Attorneys Association, said if the initiative passes there would be no frivolous appeals and the state would see enormous fiscal savings.

With the initiative, backers want to bypass automatic appeals to the California Supreme Court and instead distribute them to other appeals courts unless it is necessary for a case to be heard by the high court.

Absent from the press conference were former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and current Gov. Jerry Brown. Brown is personally opposed to the death penalty but has said he would abide by the law.

He declined comment on the proposed initiative Thursday.

Garcetti called the initiative a misguided effort and predicted legal challenges would take decades to resolve.

Anna Zamora of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California later issued a statement saying: “This flawed proposal will only make matters worse. It will create more delays and overburden our already strained court system. Worst of all, it will greatly increase the risk that California could execute an innocent person.”
TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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