Opponents of the death penalty in California have filed 800,000 petition
signatures to support a statewide vote on replacing the penalty with a term of
life in prison with no chance of parole.
The signatures – far more than the 504,000 required to qualify the initiative –
were collected by 5,000 volunteers in all 58 California counties, the
organizers for the SAFE California Act campaign, said March 1 at simultaneous
news conferences in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Diego.
Assuming the signatures are declared sufficient and valid, the question of
amending the death penalty law will appear on the ballot Nov. 6.
“California voters are ready to replace the death penalty with life in prison
with no chance of parole,” said Jeanne Woodford, a spokeswoman for the effort
and a former warden at San Quentin State Prison who oversaw four executions.
Death penalty opponents cite a report in June that the state has spent $4
billion since 1978 to fund the California death penalty system – almost all of
it for appellate court costs. The opponents say that, according to their plan,
there would be a savings of nearly $100 million – or $30 million a year, for 3
years – that could be set aside to finance investigations of open rape and
“Replacing the death penalty with a punishment of life in prison without parole
will free up funds for critical tools like DNA testing in the shocking 46
percent of murder and 56 percent of reported rape cases that remain unsolved in
our state every year,” said Woodford, who now heads a nonprofit, Death Penalty
Focus, opposed to the death penalty.
The Catholic Church opposes capital punishment, believing that all life has
value. Also on March 1, Auxiliary Bishop Gerald Wilkerson of the Archdiocese of
Los Angeles and president of the California Catholic Conference of Bishops, in
a statement thanked Catholic volunteers who helped with the signature-gathering
“Now, in November, California’s voters will be offered the chance to make this
prudent, life-affirming, safety-enhancing and cost-savings change in sentencing
law. Moreover, passing this initiative will prevent the execution of an
innocent person,” he said.
The state’s law was established by voter initiative, in 1978, and can only be
amended by initiative. Don Heller, a Sacramento lawyer, wrote the 1978
initiative – it expanded a law the California Legislature had written over
then-Gov. Jerry Brown’s veto – and now opposes the death penalty.
“I made a terrible mistake 34 years ago, but it is one that can be corrected by
replacing the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of
parole,” he said.
The death penalty has been on hold in California since 2006 due to a court case
over the legality of lethal injection procedures.
(source: Catholic San Francisco)