Valley Voices

California’s death-penalty flaws can be fixed

Heavy metal black doors lead to the East Block Condemned Row at San Quentin State Prison on April 28, 2015.
Heavy metal black doors lead to the East Block Condemned Row at San Quentin State Prison on April 28, 2015. TNS file

Abolishing the death penalty and reducing sentences for depraved criminals to life in prison without the possibility of parole is a bad idea that needs to be defeated this November.

Proposition 62 is backed by Hollywood elites and billionaires who have no stake in the game and are working to thwart justice. They have never suffered the agonizing pain that victims’ families experience, nor have they dealt with these heinous criminals on a regular basis.

Those of us who work in the criminal justice system and prosecute the worst of the worst offenders do so to ensure that those who were murdered as well as their families receive justice.

Laci Peterson’s family deserves justice. As many of you may recall, Laci was eight months pregnant when she went missing in December 2002. Her body, along with her infant son’s body, was discovered several months later.

It was a horrific case with all evidence leading to her husband as the killer. I was a prosecutor on that case. Scott Peterson was convicted and sentenced to death in 2005. He’s sat on death row for more than a decade.

California taxpayers are still housing, feeding, clothing and providing health care to a man who, upon sentencing, was called “cruel, uncaring, heartless and callous.”

Why would Californians want to continue spending millions of dollars to take care of people like Peterson or Lawrence Bittaker, who kidnapped, raped and killed six young women, or Cary Stayner, who fantasized about killing women since he was 7 years old and carried out his fantasies by viciously murdering two women and two teenage girls?

Proposition 62 proponents want to abolish the death penalty and instead give all death-row inmates life in prison “without the possibility of parole.”

However, life without parole does not stop people like them from continuing to perpetuate crimes. We have instances in California where prisoners on death row have been directing murders outside prison walls through gang affiliations.

There’s also the threat of these prisoners killing correctional officers or inmates. Under these circumstances, what sentence would death penalty-repeal advocates give these killers … a second sentence of life without the possibility of parole?

By voting No on Proposition 62 and Yes on Proposition 66, we can eliminate the costs associated with multiple appeals as well as eliminate the costs associated with living in prison for life.

California’s death-penalty system is broken but can be fixed, which is exactly what Proposition 66 will do.

Proposition 66 was written by the most experienced legal experts on the death penalty. It was written to ensure due process and to balance the rights of all involved – defendants, victims and their families.

Proposition 66 will streamline the system to ensure criminals sentenced to death will not wait years simply to have an appellate attorney appointed. It will limit unnecessary and repetitive delays in state court to five years.

The measure also limits what are clearly repetitive and frivolous abuses of the habeas process, where the same inmate files claim after claim with only minor variations on previously denied claims.

While there are no innocent people on California’s death row, Proposition 66 will ensure due process by never limiting claims of actual innocence.

Proposition 66 expands the pool of qualified lawyers to deal with these cases, and the trial courts that know these cases best will handle the initial appeals.

The overall changes to the death penalty system are simple fixes that will reform capital punishment and fix what’s broken. I urge a “no” vote on Proposition 62 and “yes” on Proposition 66 to ensure the worst of the worst killers receive the strongest sentences, while saving California taxpayers millions of dollars every year.

Birgit Fladager is the Stanislaus County district attorney. Email: Birgit.Fladager@StanDa.org

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