Victims' Loved Ones, Ex-California Governors Call for Death Penalty Reform

Executions in California have been halted since 2006 because of lawsuits in federal and state courts over changing a three-drug lethal-injection method that had been used to carry out death sentences.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Families of murder victims joined three former California governors to announce a signature-gathering effort for a measure that would reform the state's death penalty laws, including speeding up executions. Kim Baldonado reports from Downtown LA for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014.

    Three former California governors announced a proposed ballot initiative Thursday designed to speed up the state's lengthy death penalty process.

    Former Govs. George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson and Gray Davis said they were launching a signature-gathering effort for the measure that would limit appeals available to death row inmates, remove the prisoners from special death row housing, and require them to work at prison jobs in order to pay restitution to victims.

    The former governors, appearing with law enforcement officials at a news conference, made it clear they want executions to begin as soon as possible. There are more than 700 prisoners on California's death row.

    "Old age should not be the leading cause of death on death row," former Gov. Pete Wilson said.

    The governors were joined Thursday by two family members whose loved ones were killed by convicts now sitting on death row.

    A tearful Phyllis Loya said she thinks everyday about her son, Larry Lasater, a police officer killed in the line of duty in 2005. Her son’s killer was sentenced to death in 2007. Seven years later, he still sits on death row.

    So, too, does the man who murdered four members of Kermit Alexander’s family in 1984.

    "We've been waiting over 30 years for justice," Alexander said. "I am terribly disappointed in our system of justice."

    The initiative calls for housing death row inmates across the state, not just in San Quentin, limiting the appeal process to 10 years, and assigning death row inmates an attorney within one year.

    Loya said her son’s killer did not get his attorney appointed until 2011. The killer was sentenced in 2007.

    "That’s ridiculous," she said.

    It's a frustration shared by Alexander. The former UCLA and NFL football player said he hasn't been the same since his mother, sister and two nephews were killed by a gang member who went to the wrong house.

    "I have been angry with the state. I've been angry with law enforcement and I've been angry with myself because I could not do anything," he said.

    The one thing he said he can do is fight to reform the system.

    "We all know the death penalty system is broken at the appellate level," said former Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley.

    His predecessor in that job, Gil Garcetti, is leading the opposition to the initiative and was a proponent of Proposition 34, the 2012 ballot measure that would have repealed the death penalty in California. The vote was 48 percent in favor and 52 percent opposed, one of the closest votes ever on a death penalty referendum.

    A statement from the former governors said "Californians overwhelmingly reaffirmed their support for the death penalty" with the vote on Prop. 34.

    Executions have been halted since 2006 because of lawsuits in federal and state courts over changing a three-drug lethal-injection method that had been used to carry out death sentences.

    Asked about the availability of drugs to carry out executions, the governors said they could not comment and that would be an issue for the California Department of Corrections.

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