Proposition 34 is arguably the most emotionally charged issue on the ballot. We spoke at length with two of the leaders in the debate: the ex-warden of San Quentin who knows all about death row and a father who knows all about waiting for his daughter's killer to die.They each have given their lives to improving public safety, but they are leagues apart on how to do it. Suzanne Shaw reports.
The latest effort to abolish the death penalty in California was headed for defeat Tuesday night, with results showing that more than half of the voters wanted to keep capital punishment.
With 20 percent of precincts reporting, 56 percent had voted against the measure.
The proposition would have applied retroactively to the nearly 725 people now on Death Row in the state. Prop. 34 also would draw $100 million from the general fund for police agencies to help solve more homicide and rape cases.
Recent polls showed that Proposition 34, which proposes to replace capital punishment with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, had considerably more support in the state now than it did even just a few weeks ago. But on Tuesday, it looked that those early gains might not be enough. Early in the evening, the no vote had 56 percent of the vote, and the yes vote had 44 percent.
Trying to abolish the death penalty isn't a new effort in California.
But this time, advocates wielded a financial argument in addition to the more familiar questions about the morality of putting people to death, or the risk of wrongly executing the innocent.
Opponents of Prop. 34 had argued - successfully, it seems - that putting people behind bars for life instead of executing them, is cruel to victims' families. And they also doubted the cost and studies anti-death penalty advocates are relying on.
"Their whole argument is cooked out of a so-called study – a biased study,” said Mark Klaas, whose 12-year-old daughter Polly was kidnapped and killed in Petaluma in 1993. "It’s estimates. It could be off by tens of millions of dollars.”
Along with Klaas, opponents to the proposition included California State Sheriff's Association, former governors Pete Wilson and George Deukmejian, the California District Attorneys Association the California Police Chiefs Association.
Larry Gerston, a San Jose State political-science professor and an NBC political analyst, had predicted the anti-death penalty camp was going to lose.
A similar effort in 2004 went down to significant defeat – despite polls that showed a close race as the election neared, he said.
Moreover, Gerston said, voters tend to vote "no" on items when they don't understand an issue.
"California's political culture is pro-capital punishment and it has been as far back as I can remember," he said.
A total of 17 states have abolished the death penalty.