SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – It’s one of the most emotionally charged issues on the November ballot: California’s death penalty.
In just days, voters will be asked to weigh in on two propositions that are literally life and death decisions. One ballot measure repeals the state’s 38 year old death penalty, while a different measure seeks to speed up the process leading to executions.
The one thing both sides agree on is that the state’s current system is broken, and something needs to be done. For those supporting Proposition 62, which replaces the death penalty with life in prison without parole, it’s time for real change.
“It was incredibly devastating,” said Dionne Wilson.
Wilson’s husband, a San Leandro police officer, was killed in the line of duty 11 years ago.
Officer Dan Niemi was gunned down by a man who had been in and out of prison.
“I wanted the worst for him, I wanted him to suffer, I wanted the worst possible punishment, I wanted to pull the trigger myself,” Wilson said.
She initially thought the death penalty for her husband’s murderer would bring her some sort of comfort or closure.
“I thought it would make me feel better, I was told this is your justice, and we’re gonna get it for you,” Wilson said.
But after realizing the death sentence wouldn’t bring her husband back, Wilson had a change of heart.
Being the wife of a police officer, public safety came first, and she soon learned that California spends tens of millions of dollars on a capital punishment system wherein Wilson believes the real investment should be going to the root of the problem: the communities that need it most.
In 1978, Ron Briggs and his family wrote and sponsored the ballot initiative that brought the death penalty back to California
“The death penalty in CA does not work, it’s a big failed government program that needs to go away,” said Briggs.
But why the 180-degree shift now?
“We thought then that we would deliver justice and closure to people, we thought we’d save money, but instead we created a government program that spends $150 million a year on lawyers and criminals, and does nothing else,” Briggs said.
According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the total cost of a single execution is nearly $187,000.
This includes training costs of $85,200, the cost – $4,193 – for the injection chemical, and $97,492 for law enforcement agencies needed for crowd control outside of San Quentin State Prison – the state’s only death row for male inmates.
Supporters of Prop 62 say it has cost the state $5 billion to put only 13 people to death, a cost they say is 18 times more than life in prison without parole.
The CDCR says the average cost of housing an inmate per year is about $70,000.
So what does a YES vote on Prop 62 mean? It means no offenders could be sentenced to death by the state for first-degree murder.
And the 749 people sitting on death row in California right now would be re-sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
According to the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office, the measure would “reduce net state and local costs associated with murder trials, appellate litigation, and prisons by around $150 million annually.” It adds, any potential cost savings would go into the state’s general fund.
“To me, it’s being smart with our investments, it’s being proactive in stopping the crime on new victims,” said Wilson.
Dionne and her daughter won’t ever get their loved one back, but now their mission is to fight for a real kind of justice, one that would make her husband proud.
“I hope people will make what I think is the right decision and vote yes on 62 and no on 66.”
If voters choose to get rid of the death penalty, it will take effect Jan. 1.