LOS ANGELES (AP) — California voters rejected the latest attempt to repeal California's death penalty, dealing a blow to activists who saw the election as their best chance in 35 years to end capital punishment in the state.
Officials were still counting ballots, but it was apparent Wednesday that voters rejected Proposition 34 by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent. The defeat came even though recent polling showed concern growing over the cost of capital punishment and its paltry results in California.
The state has executed just 13 convicts, and its death row has ballooned to 726 inmates since 71 percent of the electorate voted to reinstate capital punishment in 1978. No executions have taken place since 2006 because of federal and state lawsuits filed by death row inmates.
The Legislative Analyst has said ending the death penalty would save the state $130 million annually.
Still, it appears a majority of California voters still support capital punishment in California as the best way to deal with the state's most heinous killers, but would like to see reforms.
"They are frustrated with the ineffectiveness and excessive cost of the present system," said Michael Rushford, president of the politically conservative Criminal Defense Legal Foundation,
He said the election was a call for California officials to streamline the appeals process, expand the pool of defense attorneys qualified to handle capital cases, and execute inmates with a single lethal drug instead of the three-drug mixture now used.
Activists seeking to repeal the death penalty said the voting results showed that a growing number of Californians are moving toward opposing the punishment on all grounds. Amnesty International noted that the number of people supporting repeal was an improvement over the 29 percent who voted against reinstating the death penalty in 1978.
"California is now deeply divided on the question of capital punishment," said Amnesty International's Brian Evans, who noted that five states have repealed the death penalty in the past five years.
Proposition 34 would have repealed capital punishment in California and shuttered death row, converting the death sentences of 726 inmates to life without the possibility of parole. The measure also would have created a $100 million fund to help investigate unsolved murder and rape cases.
The measure's backers, including the American Civil Liberties Union, vowed to continue fighting to end the death penalty in California. Continued...