SAN DIEGO (AP) — A campaign for a ballot initiative to speed executions for inmates on death row in California submitted signatures Thursday to appear on an increasingly crowded ballot that is expected to include an opposing measure to repeal capital punishment.
Californians for Death Penalty Reform and Savings said it submitted 593,000 signatures of registered voters to county registrar offices throughout the state, well above the 365,880 that authorities must verify for the measure to appear on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Last month, death penalty opponents said they submitted about 601,000 signatures for their ballot measure and were awaiting verification. A similar attempt to abolish capital punishment failed by 4 percentage points at the polls in 2012.
If voters approve conflicting ballot measures, the one with the most votes prevails.
The pro-death penalty campaign, backed by many prosecutors and other law enforcement officials, held news conferences in 10 cities to mark the milestone and push their argument that lengthy appeals have helped render capital punishment ineffective in California.
"Justice is not easy, and it is certainly not gentle. But justice denied is not justice," said Kermit Alexander, a former NFL player whose mother, sister and two nephews were killed in 1984.
Death penalty foes called the proposal costly and confusing and warned it may result in wrongful executions — a preview of the debate that voters will hear this fall.
Nearly 750 convicted killers are sitting on the nation's largest death row in California, but no one has been executed in a decade because of ongoing legal challenges. Only 13 condemned inmates have been executed since 1978 — far more have died of natural causes or suicide.
At the pro-death penalty news conference in San Diego, Mike Fender of the San Diego Police Officers Association acknowledged concerns about wrongful executions but said safeguards would be in place.
"There's got to be some kind of give on one side or the other," he said.
The initiative would speed up the lengthy appeals process by getting attorneys assigned more quickly, limiting the number of appeals and forcing them to be filed sooner. It would require the entire process to be completed within five years unless there are extraordinary circumstances.
Condemned inmates are now waiting about five years just to be assigned a lawyer for their appeals, which can drag on for more than two decades, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office.
Other provisions would allow condemned inmates to be housed at any prison, not just on San Quentin's death row, and they would have to work and pay restitution to victims while they wait to be executed.
"What is the point of seeking the death penalty in the state of California if it doesn't work?" Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, another supporter of the measure, said this week.
Death penalty opponents say their measure would save money by doing away with the death penalty and keeping condemned inmates imprisoned for life with no chance of parole.
"It's unfortunate that the DAs want to double down on a fundamentally broken death penalty system that simply can't be fixed," said deputy campaign manager Quintin Mecke of Justice That Works. "You can't streamline or reform a failed policy."
Thompson reported from Sacramento, California.—