It is a system broken beyond repair and should be ended, once and for all, and replaced with an efficient and harsh punishment: life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Californians can do that on Nov. 6 by voting for Proposition 34.
The measure ends the death penalty in the state and converts the sentences of current Death Row inmates to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Ending this farce of a punishment would save California about $130million a year, according to the state Legislative Analyst's Office (though much of that money will be used up in the first few years by specific crime-fighting grants).
Opponents of the measure claim the savings estimate is overblown, while supporters say it is a conservative estimate due to the high cost of prosecuting and incarcerating Death Row inmates. But it's clear it will save some money. Genuine savings would be welcome to California's coffers at a time when funds for police officers, firefighters, teachers and public services continue to be slashed.
Supporting Proposition 34 doesn't mean being sympathetic to the state's most heinous murderers. These are bad people who have done unspeakable things. But the reality is that sentencing them to die doesn't result in death, just a private cell and a personal legal team dedicated to sparing their life. Only 13 inmates have been put to death since California's executions resumed in 1992. During that same time, 84 death row inmates died of natural causes while more than 720 others continue to sit in their prison cells.
Additionally, all executions have been on hold since 2006 as the state's court system remains mired in arguments over the best method of lethal injection. In the meantime, Californians continue to pay for the multiple appeals that run through the overburdened court system, along with the high cost of security to keep Death Row inmates separated from the rest of the state prison system's general population.
That's not to say Proposition 34 is perfect. The measure calls for automatically earmarking a total of $100million for the SAFE California Fund so that local law enforcement agencies can speed up murder and rape investigations over the next four years. This simply amounts to ballot-box budgeting in the face of California's crippling budget deficit. But at least it has a definite cutoff point.
Those who want to see the state keep capital punishment offer compelling stories, especially those from the families of murder victims.
It's been 27 years since Tiequon Cox was sentenced to death for the execution-style shootings of the mother, sister and two nephews of Kermit Alexander, a former football star for UCLA and the Los Angeles Rams. While Cox is among the 14 Death Row inmates who have exhausted all of their appeals, he continues to sit in a jail cell as the fate of California's death penalty remains in flux.
In contrast, Jon Bonaminio's long wait for justice is just beginning. Earl Green was sentenced to death earlier this year for fatally bludgeoning and shooting Riverside police Officer Ryan Patrick Bonaminio, an Army veteran who served two tours in Iraq. The 2010 killing remains fresh for the elder Bonaminio, who wants to see his son's killer "in the dirt tomorrow."
Both Alexander and Bonaminio said they would rather see reforms for the lengthy appeals process and a resolution to the state's ongoing debate over how to administer lethal injections. Alexander and Bonaminio are clearly in pain as they continue to wait for the executions to be carried out -- but both also admitted that they don't know how they will feel afterward.
Jeanne Woodford, a former warden who oversaw four executions at San Quentin State Prison and is now supporting Proposition 34, doesn't think the two men will get the relief they think they will after the execution of these killers. She said that the families of victims head into the death chamber "looking hopeful that somehow this is going to do something for them. After it's done they realize they spent all those years waiting for the death of a murderer, but the person they loved is still gone and nothing has really changed."
Indeed, the death penalty is a charade because it gives these families false hope for a resolution that will never come. It's just an expensive and prolonged sort of vengeance.
Proponents of Proposition 34 also note that there's a chance that DNA evidence could exonerate someone who was convicted in an old murder case. Even though that hasn't happened in California, three inmates have been freed from the state's Death Row due to a lack of evidence or because the initial trials were deemed unfair.
Inmates serving life behind bars can be set free if they are exonerated, unlike those who are mistakenly put to death.
The death penalty -- like abortion or gay marriage -- is a moral issue to many voters. But given the state's dire fiscal problems, it's also a money issue. Proposition 34 would put an end to the high costs of a broken system that serves no justice. Vote "yes" on Proposition 34.