Stephen Cooper’s latest rant against the death penalty in California was off the mark on many points. He believes Prop. 66, death penalty reform, is deeply flawed. What Cooper fails to ever mention is that Prop. 66 was conceived by some of the brightest legal minds in California. It was carefully written by leading criminal prosecutors, the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation and other top legal experts – people who know from experience what’s needed to mend, not end California’s broken death penalty system.
Cooper supports Prop. 62, which allows the worst of the worst killers to be supported for life by California taxpayers – feeding, housing, clothing, and providing healthcare to these child killers, rape/torture murderers, serial murderers, and cop killers. Californians do not support this thought process and each time the idea of repealing the death penalty makes its way to the ballot, it is defeated. This year seems no different. A recent poll conducted by the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley found that 75.7 percent of Californians surveyed support Prop. 66.
Prop. 66 is supported because it makes sense. It provides due process to the defendants while providing justice to victims and their families. The centerpiece of Cooper’s post is simply wrong. The initiative does not impose a rigid deadline that must be met in every case. Courts are allowed to go longer in extraordinary cases. However, Prop. 66 streamlines the system to ensure criminals sentenced to death are assigned a special appeals lawyer immediately. It expands the availability of lawyers to handle these appeals. It limits state appeals to 5 years instead of allowing for these convicted criminals to file appeal after appeal after appeal. Five years is generally sufficient to get through state appeals, even in the most complex cases. This 5 years does not include a later federal appeal. While the DC Sniper and Oklahoma City Bombing cases are federal cases, they demonstrate that the courts can thoroughly review capital cases within that timeframe. Prop. 66 reforms are closely modeled on recent reforms to the federal death penalty system and show that in practice, Prop. 66 will work.
Additionally, while there are no innocent people on California’s death row (even California’s Governor Jerry Brown has stated “there are no innocent inmates on California’s death row”), Prop 66 will ensure due process by never limiting claims of actual innocence. Lastly, it reforms death row housing takes away special privileges, requires killers to work and use their earnings to pay restitution to victims’ families.
Currently, there are 746 killers sitting on California’s death row. These inmates have brutally murdered over 1000 victims, including 226 children and 43 police officers; 294 victims were raped and/or tortured. Taxpayers are housing serial killers like Lawrence Bittaker who kidnapped, raped and murdered six women and Cary Stayner who murdered two women and two teenagers. Sadly, these killers and others like them continue to sit on death row-sometimes for decades- leaving the victims’ families without the justice they were promised.
These killers and their repetitive appeals are the reason why the No on Prop. 62 and Yes on Prop. 66 is supported by hundreds of district attorneys, sheriffs, law enforcement organizations, elected officials, victims’ right advocates, community leaders and an overwhelming Californians.
It’s time fix California’s death penalty. By doing so, Californians will save millions of dollars every year. And most importantly, will bring justice to murder victims and their families that is long overdue.
I urge a NO vote on Proposition 62 and YES on Proposition 66.
Anne Marie Schubert
Sacramento County District Attorney