Death penalty debate over Prop 34

PALM DESERT, Calif. - As voters make up their minds on how they will vote this election, one ballot measure in California continues to get a lot of attention.

It's a call to repeal the state's death penalty with Proposition 34.

"Only two percent of the murderers in California are on death row. We save the death penalty for the worst of the worst," said Riverside County District Attorney Paul Zellerbach.

Of the 725 inmates currently on death row at San Quentin, Zellerbach is personally responsible for ten of them.

"I prosecuted five of them and I sentenced five of them to death as a superior court judge," he said.

Like many in law enforcement, Zellerbach is against repealing the death penalty.

"My point is 'mend it, don't end it.' We should reform it. We can make it better -- more effective, more efficient. But the answer is not taking it off the table for prosecutors," Zellerbach said.

If Prop 34 passes, the maximum penalty for murderers will be life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Supporters of Prop 34 are using the economy in their fight.

"Everyone in California knows we're cash-strapped. We need money for all sorts of services -- for our kids schools and real public safety. And we're wasting millions and millions on the death penalty and it's really not helping California at all," said James Clark with the Yes On 34 campaign.

The Yes On 34 campaign says doing away with the death penalty would save the state $130 million a year.
But some say it would cost just as much to house inmates for life.

"They're going to be there for the rest of their lives, we hope, and they're going to get older," said San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael Ramos. "The medical costs -- those costs are going to remain. So it's a fallacy when they say you're going to save millions and millions of dollars. I don't buy that."

There have been only 13 executions since California reinstated the death penalty in 1978.
Both sides seem to agree the system is not efficient. Many on death row have been there for decades because of lengthy and expensive appeals.

"Families are waiting 20 to 30 years for that process to go through. All that time, we taxpayers are paying for that process," said Brad Oliver with the ACLU of Southern California.

Prop 34 is retroactive. If passed, those currently on death row would be re-sentenced to life without parole.

"So do we need to start implementing the death sentences? Absolutely. You talk about really doing the job and justice for victims -- let's start putting these people to death," said Ramos.

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