DAs, police, family of slain push for death penalty changes

AP News
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Posted: Oct 30, 2015 7:10 PM

LOS ANGELES (AP) — California prosecutors, police officers and family members of the slain launched a campaign Friday to speed up executions for murderers sentenced to death.

Sacramento district attorney Anne Marie Schubert said the effort follows through on a promise that law enforcement made when fighting a 2012 ballot initiative that aimed to abolish the death penalty. Rather than get rid of the ultimate punishment, they vowed to fix it.

Schubert said the penalty is reserved for the "worst of the worst:" mass killers, serial killers, cop killers and those who rape and murder children.

The proposed initiative would change the lengthy appeals process by expanding the pool of appellate attorneys and appointing lawyers to the cases at time of sentencing. Currently there's about a five year wait to be assigned a lawyer.

More than 900 killers have been sentenced to death since 1978, but only 13 have been executed.

The state hasn't carried out an execution since 2006 when a federal judge ordered an overhaul of the state's procedures for lethal injection.

A federal appeals court is now considering whether the state's death penalty amounts to cruel and unusual punishment because of excessive delays that often don't end with an execution.

"I think a lot people probably want to do away with the death penalty because no one's getting executed in California," said Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey, citing the huge expense and long delays. "But it's not because they looked at these gruesome facts that people tortured people, raped children and said, 'No, I think life without the possibility of parole is OK. They just think it's never going to happen with the current system."

The effort comes nearly two years after a group of former governors joined law enforcement officers to push a nearly identical campaign. That effort was shelved when they realized the cost of gathering signatures to get an initiative on the ballot, said San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos.

They have regrouped and changed strategy, but the measure is pretty much the same, Ramos said. No former governors were in attendance at a news conference announcing the campaign.

Ramos says the proposals could shorten the time from conviction to execution from as long as 30 years now to 10 to 15 years in the future.

The initiative is likely to duel with another proposed ballot measure that once again seeks to abolish capital punishment.

The supporter of that effort, anti-death penalty activist Mike Farrell, who starred in the TV hit MASH, said speeding up the appeals process could violate inmates' constitutional rights if the courts rubber stamp their convictions.

"I fear that these people are playing to the hope that this is going to shorten the process, make it more meaningful and that people will actually be executed," Farrell said. "I think it couldn't be further from the truth."