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Death penalty losing public support

A recent poll shows that many Californians align with Gov. Gavin Newsom in moving away from the death penalty.

By Kimberly Linares, Staff Writer

Even though it seemed like California was not too pleased with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision of not executing death row inmates while in office, a poll says otherwise.

The Public Policy Institute of California poll found that Californians, by a 2-to-1 margin, support sentencing first-degree murderers to life in prison rather than the death penalty. This is an indication that Gov. Newsom’s recent decision to temporarily prohibit the use of the death chamber at San Quentin, California and his long-term opposition against capital punishment might align with the public.

The findings of this poll could potentially revive efforts to abolish the death penalty completely in California. This will include a proposed constitutional amendment being considered in the state Legislature that could land on the 2020 ballot. Gov. Newsom already is considering prohibiting any new death sentences in local criminal cases.

“This is a case where public opinion continues to shift, and shift support away from the death penalty,” said Mark Baldassare, the institute’s president and chief executive.

The poll results found that 62 percent of Californians, in cases of first degree murder, favored a penalty of life imprisonment with absolutely no possibility of parole, compared with 31 percent who favored death sentences. Support for the death penalty has declined since 2000, when Californians were evenly divided on this issue, according to the institutions poll of that year.

However, the survey runs contrary to recent statewide votes on capital punishment. Both Proposition 62 and Proposition 66 are considered Death Penalty Procedure Initiatives and appeared on the November 2016 ballot as initiated state statutes. Prop. 66 and Prop. 62 were competing initiatives on the same topic, meaning that if both were approved by the majority of votes, the initiative receiving the most “yes” votes would win.

Proposition 66 prevailed, indicating that voters wanted the death penalty to stay in place. The passing of this proposition brought changes in the death penalty procedure by speeding up the appeals process by establishing a time for death penalty review.

“The campaign in 2016 was very effective in the sense that voters were targeted, by bringing up examples of horrible crimes,” Baldassare said. “Voters are always more likely to vote ‘no’ than ‘yes.’”

Michael Rushford of the pro-death penalty Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, said the PPIC poll results historically have been misleading since the survey only asked Californians what penalty they favored for “first-degree murder.”

“They should have asked the right question: What should the penalty be for the worst of the worst murderers, not what it should be if they kill someone in a bar fight,” Rushford said.

Along with law enforcement organizations, Rushford is looking into what options are available to challenge the governor’s latest moratorium concerning executions.

The Republicans posted a video on Facebook featuring Mark Klass, the father of Polly Klass, who was raped and murdered in 1993. Her killer, Richard Allen Davis, is on death row.

“The death penalty now is all about Gavin Newsom and what a wonderful guy he is for sparing these poor men that just didn’t get enough hugs from their moms and dads when they were little kids,” Klaas says in the video.

A few weeks ago, Newsom signed an executive order that has given hope to the 737 death row inmates by canceling the execution of any inmate while he is in term until 2023. Newsom also ordered that the execution chamber in San Quentin State Prison not be used while also ending the use of lethal injection.

“My ultimate goal is to end the death penalty in California,” Newsom said in his latest conference call with reporters.


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