Call to speed up California’s death penalty process

Three former governors propose changes, including limiting appeals available to death-row inmates

From left, San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos and former California Govs. George Deukmejian, Gray Davis and Pete Wilson, promoting death-penalty reform in Los Angeles, Feb. 13, 2014. They hope to put the reform issue before voters in November.
Nick Ut/AP

A trio of California ex-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, which 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," Wilson said.

They said the death penalty system is crippled by waste and inefficiency.

"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leading the opposition to the initiative and was a proponent of Proposition 34, a 2012 ballot measure that would have repealed the death penalty in California.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.

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 declined to comment and said that would be an issue for the California Department of Corrections.

Two relatives of victims spoke and decried the how much time it takes to resolve a death penalty appeal. Phyllis Loya said it took four years for an attorney to be assigned to a man convicted of killing her son.

Davis said it can take 10 years before a federal application for review of a death penalty case is resolved and another 10 years to clear state appellate courts.

Anna Zamora of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California later issued a statement reading, "This flawed proposal will only make matters worse. It will create more delays and overburden our already strained court system. Worst of all, it will greatly increase the risk that California could execute an innocent person."

Absent from the press conference were former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and current Gov. Jerry Brown. Brown is opposed to the death penalty but has said he would abide by the law.

He declined comment on the proposal on Thursday.

Garcetti called the initiative a misguided effort and predicted legal challenges would take decades to resolve.

The Associated Press

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