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Battle lines drawn on California death penalty ban

April 24, 2012 | 12:24 pm

Holding cell

Battle lines are already being drawn over a ballot measure in November to repeal the death penalty in California, The Times' Maura Dolan reported.

Talk back LA

Backing the new measure are Ron Briggs, who ran the 1978 campaign for a successful ballot initiative that expanded the reach of California's death penalty; Donald J. Heller, an ex-prosecutor who wrote the 1978 initiative; Jeanne Woodford, a former warden of San Quentin State Prison who oversaw four executions; and former L.A. County Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti, who said his experience as D.A. helped change his mind about the fairness of the system.

Critics contend that California voters have historically favored capital punishment, passing several measures over the last few decades to toughen criminal penalties and expand the number of crimes punishable by death.

"The people of California have regularly voted for the death penalty by wide margins, but of course it has to be a matter of concern," said Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which advocates for tough criminal penalties. He said fundraising to defeat the November measure would be difficult.

If passed, the measure would make California the 18th state in the nation without a death penalty. During the last five years, four states have replaced the death penalty and Connecticut is soon to follow.

November's ballot measure would commute the sentences of more than 700 people on death row to life without possibility of parole, a term that would then become the state's most severe form of criminal punishment.

Most death row inmates would be returned to the general prison population and be expected to work. Their earnings would go to crime victims.

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Photo: A view of the holding cell at San Quentin State Prison where death-row inmates are held before execution. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times