published on May 19, 2016 - 12:14 AM
Written by The Business Journal Staff

(AP) — Death penalty supporters are setting the stage for a November showdown over whether to speed up executions in California or do away with them entirely.

Nearly 750 convicted killers are sitting on the nation’s largest death row, but no one has been executed in California 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.

Crime victims, prosecutors and other death penalty supporters plan to submit about 585,000 signatures Thursday for a ballot measure to streamline what both sides call a broken system. Opponents have already turned in signatures for a dueling initiative to abolish execution.

Supporters of capital punishment plan 10 news conferences statewide to promote a measure they say would save taxpayers millions of dollars annually, protect prisoners’ due process rights and bring justice to victims and their families.

The initiative would speed up a 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.

Now, condemned inmates are 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.

“Justice denied is not justice,” former NFL star Kermit Alexander said, choking up as he testified at a legislative hearing on the measure this week. “My mother, sister and two little nephews still remain in their graves, and my family is still having to fight for justice.”

They were killed in Los Angeles in 1984, and Alexander has since become the most prominent public figure backing the measure.

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 at the same hearing.

Opponents of execution submitted about 601,000 signatures for their measure on April 28 with much less fanfare, deputy campaign manager Quintin Mecke said. Each side needs nearly 366,000 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.

They 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,” Mecke said of district attorneys. “You can’t streamline or reform a failed policy.”

A similar attempt to abolish capital punishment failed by 4 percentage points in 2012.

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