Death Penalty Critics Seek Repeal

More than three decades after California voters reinstated the death penalty, opponents are gathering signatures for a ballot repeal effort. 

Proponents gathered on the steps of San Diego's Hall of Justice Wednesday to press their case during a news conference.

Between 1972 and 1992 California's death penalty and the 1978 measure that reinstated it were tied up in court.

Since then, it's only been imposed 13 times.

Meanwhile, more than 700 inmates remain on death row.

Death penalty critics wonder if it's an effective deterrent.

"I've always said that I cannot envision that somebody contemplating murder sits at the kitchen table and says 'I'm not going to commit a murder because I could face the death penalty'," said retired U.S. Circuit Court justice H. Lee Sarokin, "'But I will if I only face life imprisonment without parole'."

Sarokin and other backers of the "Savings, Accountability and Full Enforcement for California Act" say $185 million a year goes to appellate and extra security costs involving Death Row inmates.

The measure would allocate $100 million over four years to local law enforcement agencies.

More on the death penalty repeal effort: Anti-Death Penalty Budget Bungling

They point to the exoneration, nationwide, of 138 people convicted of capital crimes over the past several years.

A life prison sentence without the possibility of parole, they say, is harsh enough to fit the crime of murder.

"Inmates are raped, murdered, beaten, denied food, water, showers and contact with their loved ones," said Ronnie Sandoval, whose son Arthur Carmone spent nearly three years in prison before he was cleared of auto theft charges and freed.

"Every day is a struggle for them to survive -- a perfect punishment for anyone who's guilty," said Sandoval.

But death penalty supporters say it gives prosecutors a bargaining chip.

They cite paroled sex offender John Gardner's offer to confess to murdering Chelsea King, and lead detectives to where he buried Amber DuBois, in return for life without parole.

"We need to correct the appeals system and not get rid of the death penalty," said Rancho San Diego resident Kristi Holmquist, a prospective juror who stopped to listen to part of the news conference.

"You commit a horrific crime, you should be held accountable," Holmquist said.  "And in our state, we voted that you die for that crime.  So regardless of the cost, that's what we as a people voted for."

Added College Area resident Assan Mahamoud: "There are certain cases that actually, in my opinion, deserve to have capital punishment applied."

The measures need more than half a million voters' signatures by March 18 to qualify it for the November, 2012 ballot.

Sixty-eight percent of those surveyed in a California Field Poll in September supported capital punishment, but 'life without parole' was preferred over the death penalty by a 48 to 40 percent margin.

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