(Scott Shafer/KQED)

Should California end the death penalty? If approved by voters, Proposition 34 on the November state ballot would convert the sentences of death row inmates to life in prison without the possibility of parole. We’ll debate the measure as part of our election series, “What’s Government For?”

Guests:
Jeanne Woodford, executive director of Death Penalty Focus, a non-profit anti-death penalty group, former warden at San Quentin State Prison and former director of the California Department of Corrections
Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation

  • campfiregirl

    It’s well past time to end the death penalty. Yea on 34!

  • Ree

    Ms. Woodford’s abysmal human rights record in California
    government belies her anti-death penalty stance today.   Here are the facts: For decades, Ms. Woodford
    professionally presided over and personally administered some of the worst prison
    conditions in our country’s history, conditions that California sought to hide
    from oversight for years, and which the U.S. Supreme Court later likened to torture.
     

    It’s extremely hard for many thousands of us in California enormously affected by prison to
    accept  Woodford as a spokesperson
    against the death penalty given her brutal legacy and history, her lack of candor
    about the prison system she personally created, and the media’s lack of insight
    and examination regarding her historical role.
    This anti-death penalty effort is very marred by her involvement, at least for those of us most affected by Woodford’s career-long involvement in the prison system.

  • Beth

    Question for Ms. Woodford:  what was the most important or persuasive thing that converted you to an opponent of the death penalty?

    Question for Mr. Scheidegger:  how do you propose fixing California’s broken system when speeding up the process, as happens elsewhere, can only increase the potential for error and executing the innocent?

  • Ken Evans

    I am a Correctional Lieutenant. The victims (families) are my main concern. I feel that the death penalty does not work. The amount of money the State spends is unheard of. I realize the victims need closer, closer can also come in the form of LWOP. If the state is unable to execute do to costly litigation, why continue with the death penalty. Seems like the death penalty is breaking the states budget and making many defense

  • The arguments in support of Pro. 34, the ballot measure to abolish the death penalty, are exaggerated at best and, in most cases, misleading and false. Proposition 34 is being funded primarily by a wealthy company out of Chicago and the ACLU. It includes provisions that would make our prisons less safe for both other prisoners and prison officials. It significantly increases the costs to taxpayers due to life-time medical costs, the increased security required to coerce former death-row inmates to work, the money to pay those inmates to work, etc. The amount “saved” in order to help fund law enforcement is negligible and only for three years. (The money is taken from the general fund irregardless of whether Prop 34 actually saves any money.) Prop. 34 also takes away funds inmates could use to actually fight for their innocence, increasing the risk that innocent people will spend the rest of their lives in jail. The dollars Prop. 34 takes away ensure both that innocent people are not executed or spend the rest of their lives in jail. Get the facts and supporting evidence at http://cadeathpenalty.webs.com and http://waiting4justice.org/.

  • nashdeclan

    I will not vote for Prop 34 because of 2 reasons: 1) LWOP – really, just as bad as the death penalty, and which will never allow prisoners, even those who have changed, to ever seek release, even after many decades.
     
    and 2) Woodford, who if there were any justice, should be in the dock herself for the way she ran prisons in California.
     

    • MattCA12

      And so we begin the slide down the slippery slope.  If we do away with the DP, and we do away with LWOP, what’s next?  Maybe we should do away with punishment altogether?  And I’m always curious to know how, exactly, do you define a “changed” prisoner?  One who really, really, really promises never to do it again?  Prison must be about PUNISHMENT, not rehabilitation, which obviously never works given the astronomically high recidivism rate.  You have to make prison so bad that people will do anything never to go back if they ever do get out.  Hard labor.  Half rations.  Little or no medical care. Prison graveyards ought to be bursting with the overflow.

      • babysoft

        So your statement defeats itself. Prisons haven’t been about rehabilitation since the late 70s early 80s when we had a dramatically lower recidivism rate and rehabilitation was the model. CA’s entire prison population was about 20K. Since we’ve switched to the punishment model we’ve skyrocketed to approaching 70 percent recidivism, have a booming prissiness and jail population, decades of failed sentencing policy and Corrections is taking up 11percent or more of CYa’s entire operating budget for approximately 170k of its population. So how’s that “punishment model” working for you?

  • Barmankauflow

    Beside the few “progressive” critics who oppose the SAFE Initiative, the most vociferous opponants reside on death row itself.  How would Mr. Scheidegger and Marc Klaas react knowing that their farvorite boogy man also opposes the SAFE Initiative because he recognizes the hell his life would be in a regular prison?  Most on the row know how good they’ve got it and really do not want to have their relatively comfortable lives turned upside down.  I’d take the same position if I was there.  The death penalty has only succeeded in sucking up a lot of brilliant minds who could have made great contributions to other areas of social justice instead of wasting it fighting a dysfuntional system that serves no useful social purpose.

  • Eamonn

    Life isn’t an episode of CSI where they show technology that does not exist. There is no magical force that helps the detective to always get their man before the end of the hour. In the real world, accidents happen, incompetent lawyers are assigned to defendants, vital evidence is withheld from trials, people end up in the wrong place at the wrong time and their DNA can find its way to a crime scene without them having committed the crime. Death penalty proponents are fond of asking how opponents would feel if a family member were murdered, but a more interesting question is how would proponents feel if a family member were wrongfully convicted of a murder they did not commit?

  • Fulmersteven

    I vote Yes on Proposition 34

  • MattCA12

    Politicians pay lip service to being “tough on crime”, defense attorneys spend their lives trying to save the lives of people who wouldn’t p!ss on them if they were on fire, utopian fantasists scream “all life is sacred”…Meanwhile, murder victims cry out for justice. Our consistent failure to mete out the punishment demanded by a majority of Californians is like killing them twice.  We ought to be ashamed of ourselves.

    • Eamonn

      The only “utopian fantasists” are those who think that the death penalty solves anything. If the families want the accused to be publically flogged and crucified do we grant that wish? If you want to live in a country where people are flogged and slowly throttled to death by hoisting them up on a crane before a baying mob of savages, go live in Iran.

      • MattCA12

        Obviously anyone who argues that the death penalty, in its current form, solves anything, is deluded. A handfull of executions over the past 20 years?  Hardly a deterrent.  We would need to actually carry out the punishment before we would see any meaningful reduction in the murder rate.  Also, I love these comparisons people try to make with the other “bad” countries the US keeps company with by retaining the death penalty.  But have you ever looked up the murder rate in say, Saudi, or Singapore?  Virtually non-existent.  That’s because they know what to do with killers. 

    • babysoft

      Often family members ask prosecutors NOT to seek the death penalty and in the prosecutors zest for the spotlight and vengeance they completely ignore the victim’s family members requests, playing god and assuming they know better, pursuing a revenge sentence over their objections.

  • Fulmersteven

    Honestly I believe the death penalty to be the most incredible idea and act on Planet Earth. How could some do something so mean and cruel, its just perpetuating the cycle. What are we going to do about it? I hope Proposition 34 makes it!

  • There are so many myths out there about the death penalty– costs, closure, etc.  Thank you, Jeanne, for dispelling these myths. It’s critical that we educate voters about the issue. 

  • Babysoft777

    End the death penalty, and all revenge sentencing in this state.  Practice redemptive sentencing and invest in prevention if you truly care about victims.

  • Paulina

    I’ve heard that our prison system is extremely costly. They live better lives in prison than they would on the streets: shelter, clothing, 3 meals a day…and these are the bottom of society. Some people out on the streets end up there from bad circumstances (especially with the current economic conditions), and suffer from worse conditions yet have done no harm to society. I think what we need to do is reevaluate our prison system.

  • Denny Smith

    The pain of victim’s families is worthy of our empathy but is not an appropriate generator of public pilicy. The reigning moral calculation is that the cold piwer of the state must never be used to extinguish a life that currently endangers no one. To do so is barbarism, not justice.

  • An often overlooked aspect of the death penalty is how prosecutors use the death penalty to force defendants to agree to unjust plea bargains and accept life sentences. Former California inmate Deborah Peagler was cornered into a life sentence by prosecutors who unlawfully used the threat of the death penalty to get her to waive her right to a trial. Full disclosure, I documented her case in my documentary film “Crime After Crime.” Decades after Deborah Peagler was sentenced to 25-to-life, it was revealed that prosecutors had lacked the evidence to even pursue the death penalty in the first place. 
    -Yoav Potash
    Filmmaker
    Berkeley, CA

  • An often overlooked aspect of the death penalty is how prosecutors use the death penalty to force defendants to agree to unjust plea bargains and accept life sentences. Former California inmate Deborah Peagler was cornered into a life sentence by prosecutors who unlawfully used the threat of the death penalty to get her to waive her right to a trial. Full disclosure, I documented her case in my documentary film “Crime After Crime.” Decades after Deborah Peagler was sentenced to 25-to-life, it was revealed that prosecutors had lacked the evidence to even pursue the death penalty in the first place. 
    -Yoav Potash
    Filmmaker
    Berkeley, CA

  • Denny Smith

    The pain of victim’s families deserves our profound empathy but should not drive public policy. Moral logic demands that the cold piwer of the state not be used to extinguish a life that currently threatens no others.

  • Vada Russell

    The people who are not fixable and should never be in society, the pedophiles, the rapists,- with LWOP couldn’t  these people  be studied, their flaws mined? Under a microscope for the rest of their natural lives. 

    • MattCA12

      To what end?  Good people make bad choices.  How would studying, say, Scott Peterson, have led to anything useful?  As a society, we no longer hold ourselves accountable for our actions. 

  • John K, SF

    Death is final. There is no chance for appeal, no chance to admit and correct a mistake once a convict is killed. The list of convicts who have been exculpated both posthumously and in vivo demonstrates the legal system’s fallibility and should be grounds for the elimination of the death penalty.

    • MattCA12

      I disagree.  Of course any system, including our system of jurisprudence, is flawed: it was designed by man.  But the risks of executing an innocent person are miniscule in the modern age, and must be viewed in comparison to the huge societal benefits of a reduced murder rate.  But we would have to start actually executing people again to realize this.

      • Smokie Ignacio

        “miniscule”??? Check the stats before you comment, making sure to take a close look at TX; unless you are interseted in becoming TX. Murders dont stop to evaluate the risk/reward ratio of the death penalty, i.e. it doesn’t stop murder. However the state has killed the wrongly convicted. As for making this an argument about victims v. prisoners, remember…the wrongly convicted (and executed) are also murder victims. Real argument is public safety (lwop) vs. revenge (death penalty)

        • MattCA12

          You are probably referring to the Deluna case in TX.  I don’t think so.  All of the points raised in the law review article can be interpreted in favor of the prosecution.  But you are right about one thing, presently murderers do not stop to think about the consequences of their killing, precisely because they know that there are none. If society had the expectation that anyone who murdered another citizen would almost certainly face judicial execution, they would think twice.  Actions have consequences.  It’s how we learn as humans.  I also disagree with your last statement.  The real argument here is the importance of and respect for the process and the law. Right now, we have neither.

          • babysoft

            What about Cameron Todd Willingham or Anthony Graves? Or let’s look right here in CA at one of our own 13, Tom Thompson. Don Heller , who wrote CA’s DP statute will tell you one of the reasons he is now a spokes person against it is because he now believes Tom Thompson was innocent and executed under it. If even 1 out of 13 was innocent and executed we’re off to a pretty bad record, not to mention all those who were over sentenced and have left the row and the three who were found innocent before execution and releases, thankfully (the review process was long enough to help them)

      • Guest

        What is your source for the claim that the death penalty reduces murder rates?  Is there a database somewhere where I can report that I considered killing someone, but because my state has the death penalty, I decided not to do so?

  • Brian

    I keep hearing about the expense involved in carrying out the death penalty. I don’t care about that. Personally, I would want to kill someone who raped or killed a member of my family. But that’s not the issue as I see it. We can’t give the state the power to impose a punishment that can’t be commuted in light of an error. If we keep a convicted murderer in prison on life without parole for 25 years and find out that he’s been wrongly convicted, we can release him. However, we cannot bring him back from the dead if we executed him after 10 years on death row. We distrust government to work properly in so many other areas. Why is this an exception?

  • Alice Smith

    The Sacramento Bee pointed out this week the inequities of the application of death sentences in California.  Cost benefit analysis makes it clear that the death penalty is a terrible waste of money; it also means that we give up on people: no restorative justice, no effort to rehabilitate. Barbaric.  

  • Billinho

    What is
    the difference between “capital punishment” and any other form of
    premeditated murder? I looked it up. Apparently, capital punishment is a
    “legal” form of premeditated murder. So I guess the difference
    between a state execution and a good ole lynching is, basically, the size the
    mob.

    Usually
    when folks demand “justice,” what they’re really after is revenge.
    ..which is very often the prime motive for murder. Capital punishment is the
    ultimate hypocrisy.

    Punishment,
    in general, is a primitive concept. Before you can fix a problem, you have to
    understand the problem. Our so called judicial system has no interest in
    understanding how people justify hurting each other. If humans have any hope of
    civilizing, and living in peace, behavior must be studied by open
    (non-religious) minds who know how to study – scientists – not lawyers.

    Self-awareness
    isn’t either on or off. It evolves, painfully slowly. Throughout the vast
    majority of our species, self-awareness is obviously in its infancy.

    One positive
    step – repeal the primitive death penalty.

    Next,
    add some brains to the redneck mentality of our backward “judicial” system – behavioral
    science, neuroscience.

    • MattCA12

      Both are killing.  Certain rights accrue to the State, including the right to kill on behalf of its citizenry.  See War 101, see Being a Policeman 101.

      • Billinho

        The State has the right to kill on behalf of its citizenry? Nonsense!

        Whether an individual, a cop, a state, or a country (declaring war), the only
        rational justification for killing, IMHO, is self-defense. By that criterion,
        for instance, the allied invasion of Normandy qualifies. The nazi invasion of
        Poland, & the neo-con invasion of Iraq do not.  Nor does any form of execution.

  • Adamlp82

    The execution process has been hijacked by liberal judges playing judicial politics. The is something death penalty opponents don’t want people to know. So don’t tell me that the system is dysfunctional. They must think I was born yesterday.

    • babysoft

      Where are these liberal judges? Most judges are former prosecutors! Prosecutors barely have to know how to practice law as the judges almost grant their motions before their finished making them and will half make them for them if they overlook something all the while ruling against all the defense motions and telling them to save it for the appeal. But by then years of your life are stolen and getting a conviction overturned is a nightmare.

      In CA the people were foolish enough to fall for the ploy of rich insurance companies who were upset about the Rose Bird court’s rulings on behalf of poor workers and turned around and used the DP and feaering

      • babysoft

        Mongering to get the voters fired up on the death penalty and vote out the Rose Bird Court. Since then the CA Supreme Court is the Court of “denied”. Recently they have made a few rulings reversing on penalty phase only for small issues like juror issues or prosecutorial misconduct!!!

        There is no such thing as liberal judges in CA. Theyd be voted out of office!’

  • Beth Grant DeRoos

    Being consistently pro-life I find the death penalty to be so negative in so many ways. And yes, our family has been effected by violent crime.  
    Back in the 90’s I rmember reading a non fiction book about the effect putting someone to death had had on the prison officials doing the executions.  From alcoholism, to depression to divorce and other problems. Something few people who are pro death penalty ever discuss much less think about.

  • babysoft

    Maybe you’d be happier there? Since there’s no crime and the government is protecting everyone’s rights????

  • Dudley Sharp

    1) Cost Studies Totally Unreliable

    There is zero credible evidence that ending the death penalty will save $130 million per year or that such ending will make available an additional $100 million to help investigations of murder or rape cases.

    So far, the cost studies have been a horrendous and misleading joke, easily uncovered by fact checking, which few seem to be interested in.

    “Response to Absurd California Death Penalty Cost Study”

    http://goo.gl/RbQDU

    2) 95% of Murder Victim Survivors Support Death Penalty

    “US Death Penalty Support at 80%: World Support Remains High”

    http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2012/04/us-death-penalty-support-at-80-world.html

    3) Innocents Better Protected with Death Penalty

    Of all endeavors that put innocents at risk, is there one with a better
    record of sparing innocent lives than the US death penalty? Unlikely.

    The Death Penalty: Saving More Innocent Lives

    http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2012/03/death-penalty-saving-more-innocent.html

    Innocents More At Risk Without Death Penalty

    http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2012/03/innocents-more-at-risk-without-death.html

  • Dudley Sharp

    Innocents Better Protected with Death
    Penalty

    Of all endeavors that put innocents at risk, is there one with a better
    record of sparing innocent lives than the US death penalty? Unlikely.

    The Death Penalty: Saving More Innocent Liveshttp://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2012/03/death-penalty-saving-more-innocent.html

    Innocents More At Risk Without Death Penalty http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2012/03/innocents-more-at-risk-without-death.html

  •  The arguments in support of Pro. 34, the ballot measure to abolish the death penalty, are exaggerated at best and, in most cases, misleading and false.  Proposition 34 is being funded primarily by a wealthy company out of Chicago and the ACLU.  It includes provisions that would make our prisons less safe for both other prisoners and prison officials.  It significantly increases the costs to taxpayers due to life-time medical costs, the increased security required to coerce former death-row inmates to work, the money to pay those inmates to work, etc.  The amount “saved” in order to help fund law enforcement is negligible and only for three years.  (The money is taken from the general fund irregardless of whether Prop 34 actually saves any money.)   Prop. 34 also takes away funds inmates could use to actually fight for their innocence, increasing the risk that innocent people will spend the rest of their lives in jail.  The dollars Prop. 34 takes away ensure both that innocent people are not executed or spend the rest of their lives in jail.  Get the facts and supporting evidence at http://cadeathpenalty.webs.com and http://waiting4justice.org/.

  • The 729 convicted murderers on death row were convicted of brutally killing at least 1,279 people. At least 230 of them were children. 75 more were young adults between the ages of 18-20. Another 82 victims were older than 65.

    Of these victims, at least 211 of them were raped and 319 of them robbed. Sixty-six victims were killed in execution style, usually bound and shot in the back of the head. Forty-seven victims were tortured.

    Forty-three of these victims were law enforcement agents and another seven were security guards. Not included in these numbers are cases where the killer attempted to kill a police officer, but was unsuccessful, as in the case of Oswaldo Amezcua who shot three police officers.

    An important consideration in changing a killer’s sentence to life is whether he has murdered other inmates while incarcerated. Eleven death sentences were handed down after an already-incarcerated inmate murdered another inmate. Troy Ashmus had previously killed an inmate and viciously attacked a deputy while incarcerated for another crime. Joseph Barrett killed an inmate while incarcerated for having killed a teacher. Kenneth Bivert killed an inmate while already incarcerated on three counts of murder. John Capistrano had a previous conviction for killing an inmate and attacked another inmate in a holding cell. Joseph Danks was already incarcerated for six murders when he killed the inmate which led to his death sentence. Martin Drews was also serving time for murder when he killed an inmate. Similarly, Lee Capers brought a knife to court to stab one of the witnesses testifying against him.

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