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California Death Chamber Paradox: California Death Row Inmates Oppose Proposition 34

The lethal injection table at San Quentin Prison, California

On Tuesday, Californians rejected Proposition 34 which would have abolished the death penalty in the state.

The Field Poll has been querying Californians on the death penalty for more than 50 years, and in 2011 there was a notable shift. Although 68% of respondents said they were in favor of keeping capital punishment, a percentage that had fluctuated only slightly since 2002, the answers grew more interesting when the question was phrased a different way. Asked whether they would rather sentence killers to life without parole or the death penalty, a significant majority of Californians in 2011 said they preferred the former — 48% favored life imprisonment vs. 40% for state-sponsored execution. Since the poll started asking this question in 2000, death had always trumped a life-in-prison sentence.

Proposition 34 would have done precisely what voters in 2011 said they wanted, resentencing the 726 death row inmates to life without the possibility of parole and eliminating capital punishment as an option in future cases. Yet the initiative lost, 52.8% to 47.2%.

The Times goes on to lament (sine the Times Editorial Board supported Proposition 34) that it is just a matter of time before death penalty abolitionists win.

I am not so sure.

Here is Gallup Polling on the matter.

Gallup Poll on death penaltyIn a very LEFT tide Presidential election cycle( with wide participation by voters) with virtually NO opposition (certainly NO television advertising), Proposition 34 still lost by 6 points.

There have been too many heinous crimes in California and there is no incentive to give leniency to those already on Death Row. The fiscal argument may sway a few, but when Californians are reminded of the horrendous crimes, they will support the death penalty.

Now, if we can only convince the federal and state courts to speed up and streamline the process of appeals. And, allow the California Department of Corrections to enforce the law.

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San Quentin Prison California Death By Lethal Injection Chamber

The lethal injection table at San Quentin Prison, California

Go figure.

California death row inmates oppose California Proposition 34 which will abolish the death penalty.

Why?

Prisoner appeal rights would be dramatically curtailed.

Like other state prisoners, the 725 inmates on California’s Death Row can’t vote. But if they could, there’s evidence that most of them would vote against a November ballot initiative to abolish the death penalty.

It’s not that they want to die, attorney Robert Bryan said. They just want to hang on to the possibility of proving that they’re innocent, or at least that they were wrongly convicted. That would require state funding for lawyers and investigators – funding that Proposition 34 would eliminate for many Death Row inmates after the first round of appeals.

I grow tired with the anti-capital punishment crowd, including state and federal judges who obstruct the enforcement of California law.

I, too, will be voting for California Proposition 34 in November, but it won’t be to preserve inmate appeal rights, but to obtain justice for the many victims of these convicted criminals.

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Michael Angelo Morales

I am a few days late to this story, but at least someone (her brother) is trying to obtain justice for Terri Lynn Winchell.

The killer of a woman brutally murdered more than 30 years ago still sits on death row. The victim’s brother is suing to resume executions in California. The lawsuit seeks to end the legal logjam that has put a hold on executions at San Quentin State Prison for six years. The delays involve questions over the use of lethal injections.

More than 700 inmates sit on California’s death row. Not one has been executed in six years. Former governors Pete Wilson and George Deukmejian are on a team of lawyers seeking to help the families of murdered victims.

“I get sick to my stomach,” said Bradley Winchell, the victim’s brother. “I am asking this court to set it right.”

Bradley Winchell says he’s been waiting more than three decades for closure. His sister Terri was brutally murdered and raped in 1981 in a Lodi vineyard.

Her convicted killer, Michael Morales, sits on San Quentin’s death row and is one of 14 inmates who have exhausted all their appeals.

But just as Morales was about to be executed in 2006, a judge granted a reprieve, allowing Morales’s lawsuit to move forward after he claimed the three-drug lethal injection method was cruel and unusual punishment.

Winchell just filed a lawsuit of his own, saying he’s waited long enough. He wants the state to resume executions by moving to a one-drug process currently used in other states.

“I consider 31 years excessive delay, injury to not only myself but my family,” said Winchell.

California’s death penalty has been criticized for many years. Delays often result in decades passing before an execution is carried out.

“It’s a sad state of affairs when those officials with the duty to execute the law care so little about the rights of victims of crime,” said Kent Scheidegger, Criminal Justice Legal Foundation.

In the meantime, an initiative qualified yesterday and California voters yet again will be asked to vote on whether the death penalty will continue in the state. I, frankly, think that California voters will approve the death penalty – as they have each time.

Here is a video of a news report that tells the story:

This Californian demands justice for Terri Lynn:

Terri Lynn Winchell

The California Department of Corrections needs to speedily change its execution protocol and get on with it.

Michael Morales would then be one of the first to go:

Michael Angelo Morales current photo

Justice for Terri Lynn!

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According to the latest Gallup Poll.
Sixty-one percent of Americans approve of using the death penalty for persons convicted of murder, down from 64% last year. This is the lowest level of support since 1972, the year the Supreme Court voided all existing state death penalty laws in Furman v. Georgia.

Gallup first asked about use of the death penalty in murder cases in 1936. At that time, 59% of Americans supported it and 38% opposed it. Americans’ views on the death penalty have varied significantly over the 75 years since, including a period from the late 1950s to the early 1970s when less than a majority of Americans favored it. Support climbed to its highest levels from the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s, including the all-time high of 80% who favored the death penalty in 1994. Since then, support has gradually declined; this year’s measure of 61% marks a 19-percentage-point drop over the past 17 years, and a 3-point drop from last year’s measure.

The Oct. 6-9 poll was conducted shortly after the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia, which generated widespread protests and extensive news coverage. This could help explain the slight drop in support for the death penalty this year. However, there have been high-profile executions in the news in previous years without concomitant drops in death penalty support, making it less clear that such events have a direct impact on attitudes.

There are a number of reasons for the decline in support.

The most profound is probably the discovery of DNA and other forensic evidence which may cast in doubt some jury verdicts. In other words, some convicted murderers may be put to death wrongly. Whereas, a sentence of life in prison without parole would allow the convicted felon time to appeal – a lifetime in fact.

There is also a sense of frustration with the legal process. It takes forever to execute someone in the United States – sometimes many decades.

Less Than Half Say Death Penalty Not Imposed Often Enough

This year, 40% of Americans say the death penalty is not imposed often enough, the lowest such percentage since May 2001, when Gallup first asked this question. Twenty-five percent say the death penalty is used too often, the highest such percentage yet that Gallup has measured. The rest (27%) say the death penalty is imposed about the right amount.

The graph:

And, is the death penalty FAIRLY applied?

Fifty-two percent of Americans say the death penalty is applied fairly in this country, down from 58% last year, but similar to the 51% who felt this way in June 2000.

The graph:

Now, let’s look at the demographics of those who support the death penalty.
Almost three-quarters of Republicans and independents who lean Republican approve, compared with 46% of Democrats and independents who lean Democratic. Additionally, men, whites, and those living in the South and Midwest are among those most likely to support the death penalty. Americans younger than age 30 are less likely to support the death penalty than are those who are 30 and older.

The graph:

So, what does this all mean?

There will be increasing pressure for some states to end the death penalty and changing punishment heinous criminal conduct to life in prison without parole. However, a clear majority of American voters favors the death penalty and a majority of states will resist those efforts and maintain the ultimate punishment for the foreseeable future.

A separate Gallup trend question, not asked this year, explicitly offers respondents the opportunity to choose between the death penalty and life imprisonment with no possibility of parole, and last year’s update found about half of Americans preferring the latter option. On the other hand, Gallup has found support for the use of the death penalty rising when Americans are asked about specific cases involving high-profile mass killings, such as the Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh.

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