Sept. 21


Oklahoma should develop execution protocol for nitrogen gas, AG Scott Pruitt says

Oklahoma officials would be wise to develop an execution protocol that uses nitrogen gas, Attorney General Scott Pruitt said Tuesday.

Pruitt said states across the nation, including Oklahoma, have found it difficult to obtain drugs to administer lethal injections because manufacturers put restrictions on the use of the drugs.

"It will be a continuing problem," he said.

As a result, the state should develop a protocol for the use of nitrogen gas, Pruitt said.

In 2015, lawmakers passed and Gov. Mary Fallin signed House Bill 1879 following the state's use of a new, 3-drug protocol in the execution of Clayton Lockett, who spent 43 minutes on the death chamber gurney between the time of the injections and his death. His execution has been called a "procedural disaster."

Later it was learned that the state had used the wrong drug combination to execute Charles Warner in January 2015. 1 of the 3 drugs the state used was potassium acetate, not potassium chloride as called for in the existing protocol.

The execution of Richard Glossip, scheduled for last September, was put on hold after officials discovered that the state had received the same incorrect drug for his lethal injection.

The H.B. 1879 law says that if lethal injection is determined by courts to be unconstitutional or becomes unavailable, an execution shall be carried out by nitrogen hypoxia. Electrocution and firing squad are legal alternatives should nitrogen gas not be available or be held unconstitutional.

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections was charged with writing a new protocol for lethal injection following the May release of a multicounty grand jury report. The grand jury said the protocol should be revised and needs to require verification at every step of the process.

Pruitt previously said he will not request new execution dates until at least five months after the protocol is finalized.

"We are evaluating the current protocol, looking at the grand jury report and determining what changes need to be made," said Terri Watkins, an Oklahoma Department of Corrections spokeswoman. There is no timeline, she said.

Pruitt said he thinks "it would be wise for the state of Oklahoma to engage in a process on the nitrogen oxide (option)."

"It is authorized by statute," he said, but "it will be challenged. There will be an Eighth Amendment challenge."

The Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

"We will litigate that," he said. "The policymakers have spoken. The policymakers have established that as a matter of law. It is an alternative."

No state has ever used nitrogen gas in an execution, but some researchers have suggested a protocol that would use a clinical plastic face mask connected by tubing to a canister of nitrogen gas rather than a gas chamber.

"I think it is wise for the DOC to consider both and to publish both," Pruitt said of execution protocols for lethal injection and nitrogen gas.

Administering the death penalty is the "most sobering responsibility that the state of Oklahoma has," Pruitt said.

(source: Tulsa World)


Judge declares Nikko Jenkins competent for death penalty hearing

Get ready for Round 4.

A judge on Tuesday declared Nikko Jenkins competent to face a death penalty hearing in the August 2013 murders of Juan Uribe-Pena, Jorge Cajiga-Ruiz, Curtis Bradford and Andrea Kruger.

Douglas County District Judge Peter Bataillon set Jenkins' death penalty hearing for Nov. 14.

The judge scheduled the hearing for after the Nov. 8 election in which voters will decide whether to restore Nebraska's death penalty. State senators repealed the death penalty in 2015 - prompting a petition drive to try to reinstate it. If the death penalty is reinstated, 3 judges will meet to hear evidence on whether Jenkins should receive the death penalty.

The judge's order, released Tuesday, comes just a week or so after State Sen. Ernie Chambers asked for a Department of Justice investigation into how Jenkins was able to obtain the means to slice various parts of his anatomy, including his neck and penis.

Prosecutors allege that Jenkins' self-mutilation is just part of his attempts to manipulate the system.

Some psychiatrists have disputed that Jenkins' is faking it; concluding instead that he suffers from schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

Despite the diagnoses and the disfigurements, Bataillon ruled, Jenkins is able to understand the proceedings and assist his defense attorneys in fighting the death penalty.

Thrice previously, Bataillon has set a death-penalty hearing - only to have Jenkins behave erratically and be declared incompetent before it could take place.

(source: Omaha World-Herald)


New Mexicans respond to governor's death penalty push

As lawmakers plan to debate reinstating the death penalty in New Mexico, one of them spoke with KRQE News 13 about why the issue should be tackled in a special session. That special session is expected to be called soon to fix the budget.

"I think it's important when going into a special session that we address an issue that is at the top of people's minds and at their hearts right now," said Rep. Monica Youngblood.

Rep. Monica Youngblood says the death penalty bill will address cop killers and those who murder children.

New Mexico abolished the death penalty in 2009. The governor says she will push to reinstate it.

But, Archbishop John C. Wester says bringing back the death penalty is not the answer.

"Let's find the funding. Let's get the revenue sources that we need. I know that we're down to the bare bones in terms of our budget, so let's get the revenue sources that we need and help our children and people in our state that need it," said Archbishop Wester, Archdiocese of Santa Fe.

No word on when the special session is set to start.

(source: KRQE news)


NM prison gang revelations raise death penalty questions

Recent revelations into the inner workings of the Syndicato de Nuevo Mexico prison gang show the shocking extent of its resolve to defend its criminal enterprise by any means possible.

Some of the gang's members face federal prosecution as a result of a multiagency racketeering investigation into its activities, including a plot in 2015 to kill New Mexico Corrections Secretary Gregg Marcantel and another top Corrections Department official.

But it seems this band of hard-core criminals is willing to go far beyond what the law allows in response to the charges.

According to recently released court documents in the federal case, gang members have:

-- Plotted to have a gang member violate his parole so he could be sent to federal prison, where he could kill a former gang leader who had pleaded guilty in an agreement that implicated a top Syndicato boss.

-- Discussed killing FBI agents and blowing up a federal building.

-- Targeted for death several victims, witnesses, informants and perceived informants.

-- Beat and left for dead a man who was scheduled to testify against a gang member.

-- Secretly passed around discovery material from their federal case in an attempt to identify for possible hits people who were cooperating with prosecutors or who were witnesses.

The so-called syndicate has "amassed dozens of homicides in furtherance of the gang," according to an affidavit for a warrant to search gang members' residences. The affidavit also said the influence of the gang, which arose out of the 1980 Santa Fe prison riot, has spread to the federal prison system.

In response to threats against the FBI and others, law enforcement agents led by the FBI earlier this month raided 8 homes in Albuquerque and other locations.

Tactics uncovered in the ongoing investigations illustrate the difficulty in dealing with such violent and dedicated career criminals who are willing to do anything to further their organization's agenda and seem to know every prisoner protection in the book.

These kinds of ultraviolent criminals make a case for bringing back the death penalty in New Mexico for certain crimes, including killing a corrections or other law enforcement officer.

Gov. Susana Martinez has said she will put the death penalty on the call for an expected special budget session. Lawmakers should consider approving limited restoration and send the message that violent crimes have serious consequences and far-reaching criminal enterprises will not be tolerated.

(source: Albuquerque Journal editorial board; It is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers)


California Voters Should Remember Troy Davis This November

Today marks the 5th anniversary of the execution of Troy Davis. Troy was killed by the state of Georgia on September 21, 2011 despite a mountain of newly discovered evidence pointing to his innocence. The day he died, Troy said, "The struggle for justice doesn't end with me. This struggle is for all the Troy Davises who came before me and all the ones who will come after me."

For more than 20 years, courts and prosecutors refused to entertain the notion that a mistake could have been made and that Troy could be innocent. In fact, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia famously wrote in a dissenting opinion in Troy's case, "This Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is 'actually' innocent."

This has become a hallmark of the American death penalty: don't look too hard, don't ask too many questions. Once a jury has reached a verdict, avoid at all costs the question of whether they might be wrong. Finality over fairness or accuracy.

I started my journey with Troy 20 years ago, though I didn't realize it at the time. I was working as an organizer for the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP). During NCADP's annual convening, a woman, with her 3-year-old son in tow, came up to me and told me that her brother Troy was on death row in Georgia, and that he was innocent. I told her, "Bring us the evidence and we'll fight like Hell to set him free."

15 years later, while I was President and CEO of the national NAACP, I was asked by the President of the Georgia NAACP to meet with Troy. I agreed. In that meeting I was moved by Troy's religious conviction, his commitment to criminal justice reform, and the role he played in raising his nephew from the confines of his prison cell on death row. As I was leaving the prison, I ran into Troy's sister, Martina, in the parking lot. Her son De'Jaun, who was now 18 years old, was with her. She asked if I recalled the promise I had made her. Then, she showed me a picture of us that she had taken 15 years earlier, and opened the trunk of her car.

Inside of the trunk was mountains of files and folders. She was showing me the evidence.

In the intervening years between our first meeting and that day, 7 of the 9 original witnesses from Troy's trial had recanted. The only 2 that hadn't were a notorious criminal - the probable perpetrator of the crime - and a witness with a remarkably implausible claim about what he had seen that moonless night from a significant distance away. No physical evidence linked Troy to the crime.

From that day forward, I kept my promise to her. I spent the next 2 years
fighting to prove Troy's innocence, but in 2011, Troy - a young Black man from the South - was executed - despite enormous doubt about his guilt.

We've learned time and time again, that proving one's innocence after one has been condemned to die is nearly impossible. Troy is not the only innocent person to be executed in recent memory. Evidence suggests that executed prisoners Cameron Todd Willingham and Carlos De Luna were also innocent. More than 150 men and women have been released from death rows across the country after evidence of their wrongful convictions emerged, some coming within just days or hours of execution. 2/3 of of these men and women have been people of color.

As long as we have a death penalty, the risk of executing an innocent person can never be eliminated. This November, in California, voters will have the opportunity to ensure that their state never makes the ultimate mistake by voting yes on Proposition 62, which will replace the death penalty with a sentence of life in prison without parole. In an attempt to confuse voters, however, prosecutors and prison guards have placed a second initiative on the ballot, Proposition 66, that promises to "speed up" the death penalty by removing important legal protections, imposing arbitrary timelines, and forcing inexperienced attorneys to handle death penalty cases. It is a recipe for disaster that will greatly increase the state's chance of executing an innocent person. The idea behind Proposition 66 is to bring Texas-style justice to California so they can operate death row like a conveyor belt.

The problem: Texas has executed innocent people. Both Carlos De Luna and Cameron Todd Willingham were executed in Texas, where introducing new evidence of innocence is nearly impossible. It is unfathomable that California would want to replicate Texas laws that have led to the execution of innocent people.

Both sides agree the California's death penalty is broken - there hasn't been an execution in over a decade, despite billions of dollars spent maintaining death row, and 3 innocent people have been released from death row in this state since 1989. Now voters have a choice about what to do with California's failed system.

In making this choice, I hope they will remember Troy. Troy knew that as long as the specter of the death penalty continues to haunt the American justice system, more innocent men and women would be executed. We must admit to ourselves that infallibility is beyond our grasp. It isn't a question of if we will execute another innocent person, but when - unless we recognize that the cost of this failed system is just too high. California voters should vote Yes on Proposition 62, and No on Proposition 66 this November.

(source: Ben Jealous served as President and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) between 2008 and 2012. Troy's sister Martina succumbed to cancer just months after Troy was executed, so Ben took on the responsibility of overseeing her son's education. De'Jaun is now a senior at Morehouse College where he is majoring in Physics and Electrical Engineering----Huffington Post)


Proposition 62 Appeals to the Better Angels of Our Nature

No righteous, freedom-loving Californian believes human beings should be executed for possessing or selling pot. Indeed, we rightly cringe at the megalomaniac entreaties (such as, kill drug dealers and "I'll give you a medal" of military strongman, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who incites, and has himself been directly linked to mass extrajudicial killings of Filipinos for non-violent drug crimes.

--We tsk-tsk and, secretly or not so secretly, we pat ourselves on the back for being so much more evolved.

Putting aside for a minute, the distant and distasteful asterisk of Newt Gingrich's proposed "Drug Importer Death Penalty Act of 1996," as conservative and liberal Americans in California, we wonder: How could social mores in the Philippines descend so low it becomes acceptable - and more than that, praised by the government - for vigilantes to kill over drug crimes? What became of the rule of law?!

We forget, as Don Jackson of The Los Angeles Free Press reported on April 10, 1970, that in California, "[t]he death sentence [was once] voted by the Bakersfield City Council for a second conviction of selling marijuana or illegal drugs. Councilman Robert Whitemore, who introduced the legislation said [at the time], 'Unless severe measures are taken, an entire generation will be destroyed by dope.'"

As reported that same month by The Desert Sun, even then-Governor Ronald Reagan "hinted he might favor capital punishment for some hard drug peddlers. Asked what he thought of [the] Bakersfield City Council resolution calling for life imprisonment or the death penalty for persons convicted twice of selling hard drugs [which at that time wrongly included marijuana, just as the federal government continues to wrongly classify it as a "hard drug" today], Reagan said he thought there was 'some justification' for considering dope pushers as dangerous as murderers."

In California, and across this great land, we long ago came to the realization as a people, through our democratic institutions and ideals - even ardent admirers of capital punishment, Ronald Reagan (and, yes, even Gingrich) - that it's immoral for the state to execute a person over drugs.

Another famous, former California Governor, the Honorable Earl Warren, who later became Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, were he still alive, would observe, "our standards of decency" have "evolv[ed]," thereby "[m]ark[ing] the progress of a maturing society."

On November 8, by voting for Proposition 62 and against Proposition 66, Californians can take that next critical step forward towards marking our progress as a maturing society.

We aren't married to the death penalty but if we were, given its dastardly, dysfunctional and discriminatory history, it's well-nigh time for a divorce. By guaranteeing life without the possibility of parole for "the worst of the worst," we can, as peaceful, justice-loving citizens, properly and respectfully honor the victims of homicide and their families.

Without compromising our morality, as the competing ballot initiative, Proposition 66 would require, we can finally reject the antiquated, eye-for-an-eye mentality, at capital punishment's ignoble roots - an ideology steeped in revenge, hatred, even bloodlust.

As President Lincoln beautifully counseled at the close of his first inaugural address following the United States' gloomy upheaval of secession, the time is now for us to look to the "better angels of our nature," and end capital punishment. Moreover, also attributable to Lincoln: "Let's have faith that right makes might; and in that faith let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it."

(source: Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and


California Voters Face Choice: End Death Penalty, or Speed It Up

Beth Webb remembers talking with friends at her sister's Christmas party several years ago, wondering aloud if she would support the death penalty if someone she knew were murdered. Then, in 2011, her sister, Laura Webb Elody, was killed along with seven other people as she worked at a hair salon in nearby Seal Beach.

For weeks, Ms. Webb wanted revenge. And the local district attorney promised she would get it in the form of the death penalty. But 5 years later, the man who killed her sister and wounded her mother is still alive, and Ms. Webb is now helping to lead the campaign to abolish the death penalty here.

Tami Alexander has waited even longer. The man who killed her mother-in-law and sister-in-law has been on death row for more than 2 decades.

The death penalty has long been one of the most contentious issues in the state. Though California has executed only 13 people since the 1970s, it has sentenced hundreds to death and has more prisoners on death row than any other state. California has repeatedly been criticized for keeping those people in a suspended state for years, costing Californians billions of dollars.

There have been attempts before to reform the system - just 4 years ago a ballot proposition failed in its effort to abolish the death penalty entirely. Now voters are being presented with their latest choice in the matter: Should the state get out of the business of capital punishment completely or enact a plan to make executions happen more quickly?

Both proposals accept that the state's death penalty system - which costs an estimated $150 million a year for trials, appeals and death row facilities - is broken. The state's process is so prolonged, "with only the remote possibility of death," that it is tantamount to cruel and unusual punishment, a federal judge wrote in a 2014 ruling, calling the system dysfunctional and arbitrary. The 747 inmates on death row remain in a legal limbo: There has not been an execution in the state since 2006, as the state's lethal injection protocol remains tied up in the courts.

This year, voters will decide between two competing ballot measures: Proposition 62, which would end the death penalty and replace it with life without parole, and Proposition 66, which would speed up the executions by accelerating appeals for inmates on death row. A victory for either side will transform the state's system for capital punishment.

When the death penalty was last on the state ballot, the focus remained primarily on money - with opponents arguing that the state was spending billions without executing anyone. In California, most inmates spend at least 2 decades on death row. Far more have died from natural causes or suicide than have been executed.

After the measure to repeal it lost by 4 % points in 2012, supporters of the death penalty quickly pulled together to find a way to get their proposal to voters as quickly as possible.

"We knew we needed to say to California voters as quickly as possible that we have to get this fixed," said Mike Ramos, the San Bernardino district attorney and one of the leading proponents of Proposition 66. "Citizens are getting rightly frustrated that we are holding the worst of the worst, people who are evil, on hold indefinitely. The families would like justice, the people want justice, and what we have does not work."

This time, the arguments are as much about moral and philosophical issues as financial, with Ms. Webb and Ms. Alexander each seen as key advocates for the opposing measures.

"There is no way to know how much hatred you have in your heart until someone you know is murdered," Ms. Webb said in a recent interview. "That's what the people who want this understand - the frustration of somebody doing this to you and you not being able to do anything is overwhelming."

Though national polls show that a majority of voters favor the death penalty, there have been notable victories in attempts to repeal it. In the past decade, legislatures in New Jersey, New Mexico, Illinois and Delaware have all voted to end it, and other governors have declared moratoriums on executions. And 2 other states - Oklahoma and Nebraska - will also vote on ballot propositions this year.

"There are a few counties that are overproducing death penalties, and it is coming at an enormous cost to everyone in the state," said Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. "You no longer have to be against the death penalty in theory to be against the way the death penalty is practiced in the United States. We used to look at it dogmatically, and now we are looking at it pragmatically."

While opponents of the death penalty argue that eliminating death row would save $150 million, supporters similarly argue that speeding up the process would save the state more money in the long run. Proposition 66 would force courts to process death penalty cases more quickly, but opponents of the measure say there are not enough lawyers with the ability to handle the cases to move cases off the docket.

"Our family doesn't care if it takes 100 years if it's a case where the innocence is in question, but that's not what happens," Ms. Alexander said. "What happens is that we wait an eternity for someone who is already found guilty and that a jury found deserves to die. They can appeal over and over again on things that have nothing to do with the crime itself."

And the delays in execution, once an exception, are now routine for myriad reasons. In addition to the guilt phase of a criminal trial, the penalty phase can go on for years as lawyers compile thick histories of the suspect's criminal and mental health record, and few defense lawyers are interested in taking on such cases, said Ellen S. Kreitzberg, a law professor at Santa Clara University who has studied how the death penalty is carried out in California.

"In the counties where you have a lot of death penalty cases, you've got 35 % of a court's staff time spent on those," she said. "That means the system is not working. It's not equipped to deal with this."

Ms. Webb said it was not until her sister's case began to drag on that she began to rethink her views on the death penalty.

"The offer that the death penalty is somehow going to relieve your pain is on so many levels unfair," she said. "Because what they are saying is that if you hold on to that anger long enough we are going to release it for you when we murder this person. But I cannot live with the idea that somebody else's death is going to set me free. It would validate the very thing that he did."

Ron Briggs, who helped draft a ballot measure expanding application of the death penalty in 1978 and was one of the leading proponents of the attempt to repeal it in 2012, said that despite the narrow loss, he thought a quick return to the ballot was the best way to persuade voters to end capital punishment in the state.

"That gives all the closure the family needs and ends these endless appeals," Mr. Briggs said. "I think Republicans and fiscal conservatives are really beginning to get the message that this is costing a lot of money and not doing a lot of good."

(source: New York Times)


Marin supervisors back death penalty repeal, parole reform

The Board of Supervisors decided provisionally Tuesday to throw its support behind propositions on the Nov. 8 ballot that would increase parole chances for some felons and repeal the death penalty.

4 of the board's 5 members - Supervisor Steve Kinsey was absent - discussed what their positions should be on the other 15 propositions on the ballot as well. A resolution making their choices official will be considered for a formal vote on Oct. 4. They decided not to take a position on Proposition 64, which would legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

Before staking out their position on Proposition 57, Gov. Jerry Brown's sentencing reform, the supervisors listened to dueling recommendations from Marin County Public Defender Jose Varela and Marin County District Attorney Ed Berberian. Proposition 57 would allow parole consideration for people convicted of nonviolent felonies once the felon has completed the full prison term for a primary offense.

"I'm going to ask the board to support Gov. Brown's push to continue reforms in the criminal justice system," Varela said. "One of the things that we are living through as a society is the over-criminalization that sent many people who shouldn't be in state prison into state prison, thereby creating more sophisticated criminals and allowing parolee populations in many jurisdictions in the state to then raise the crime level in those counties."

Berberian asked the supervisors to oppose Proposition 57. He said previous reforms in "3 strikes" sentencing requirements and early release programs had already reformed the state's criminal justice system, and Proposition 57 would swing the legal pendulum too far in the opposite direction.

"We can't seem to find a middle ground," Berberian said. "Prop. 57 really ignores victims' rights."

Nevertheless, a majority of the board - Kate Sears, Katie Rice and Damon Connolly - said they supported backing Proposition 57.

"I personally think there is a lot more criminal sentencing reform that can be achieved," said Sears, who noted that a bipartisan effort to reform sentencing at the federal level was stymied by a do-nothing Congress.

"I do think there is a role here for what this proposition is trying to achieve," Sears said.

Connolly said, "I see it as part of a larger picture unfolding at the policy level right now. I think on balance this is a move in the right direction."

Rice said she favored supporting the proposition, but she said she would be interested in learning more about it before the supervisors vote on the resolution.

Supervisor Judy Arnold did not express an opinion on Proposition 57, the death penalty initiative or legalization of marijuana.

Regarding Proposition 62, which would repeal the death penalty in California and replace it with life imprisonment, Supervisor Rice said she personally supports the initiative and was looking for guidance from other supervisors on whether the board should adopt a position.

Both Sears and Connolly said they were comfortable backing the proposition.

"I think it is a discussion worth having in society," Connolly said. "We're seeing there is a real risk of putting innocent people to death. There is a moral dimension to this."

Connolly was also the lone member of the board who advocated support for Proposition 64, which would legalize cannabis. Connolly said Proposition 64 would "bring the issue of recreational marijuana use out in the open and provide necessary regulation."

"I think it will actually enhance safety," Connolly said. "It will help with environmental protection. One of the big issues we're seeing right now with the illegal black market is destruction of public lands and sensitive environmental habitats."

Both Sears and Rice, however, said they thought it was inappropriate for the board to take a position on this issue. Sears said that when the county was preparing its ordinance for regulating medical cannabis she heard from many residents who were concerned about the effect that legalization of marijuana would have on their kids.

(source: Marin Independent Journal)


"Since 1978, California has spent $5 billion to put 13 people to death." -- Tom Steyer on Wednesday, September 14th, 2016 in a press release.

Did California spend $5 billion to execute 13 people?

California billionaire and potential gubernatorial candidate Tom Steyer joined the debate over ending the state's death penalty last week by repeating a questionable claim.

"Since 1978, California has spent $5 billion to put 13 people to death," Steyer said in a press release announcing his support for Proposition 62.

The measure would abolish capital punishment in the state.

Proposition 66, a competing measure on November's ballot, would keep the death penalty but proposes speeding up its appeals process.

There's no doubt California's death penalty system is slow and expensive: But $5 billion to execute 13 people? We decided to fact-check that suspect claim.

Our research

There are more than 700 people on California's death row, which the Yes on 62 campaign has correctly claimed is the largest death row in the Western Hemisphere.

The state has paid incarceration and court costs for all of those inmates, not just the few that have been executed since California reinstated the death penalty in 1978.

Steyer based his '$5 billion to execute 13 people' claim on information from the Yes on 62 campaign, according to his spokesman. The campaign has made the death penalty's high cost a central part of its argument for abolishing executions.

The Yes campaign made the same claim as Steyer in a September 12 Facebook post.

The Yes on 62 campaign made the same claim on Twitter on Sept. 16, 2016.

It published a more accurate and nuanced statement on its website: "Since 1978, California taxpayers have paid $5 billion to maintain the death penalty and death row, and executed 13 people."

The Yes on 62 campaign says it extrapolated the $5 billion estimate from a report by California's Loyola Law School in 2011 that placed the cost of the state's entire death penalty system at $4 billion.

One of the report's authors, Paula Mitchell, told PolitiFact California that the $5 billion figure is her updated estimate for how much state and federal taxpayers have spent on California???s entire death penalty system since 1978, not just on cases for the 13 people who have been executed.

Mitchell said Steyer and the Yes on 62 campaign left out this key context in their claims.

"I think the way to fairly characterize the expense is to say we've spent $5 billion on a system that has produced only 13 executions since 1978," said Mitchell, who heads Loyola's Project for the Innocent and is an adjunct professor.

Representatives for the No on 62 campaign rejected the claim by Steyer, noting costs are spread across "a much larger number of cases." They also called the $5 billion estimate in Mitchell's report "a wildly inflated number." Wildly inflated?

We dug a bit deeper to examine whether Steyer not only wrongly attributed the entire cost of the death penalty system to 13 cases, but also used a "wildly inflated" cost estimate.

Mitchell, who is an advocate for abolishing capital punishment, said she's worked with the Yes on 62 campaign to discuss death penalty cost estimates.

She said her estimates are derived from the cost of pre-trial investigations, trials, appeals and incarceration. Her report cites figures from the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, among other sources.

Frank Zimring, a law professor and death penalty expert at UC Berkeley, said he's relied on the report in the past and finds the cost estimate credible, "give or take a hundred million or so."

Cost comparison

Mitchell's said her current $5 billion cost estimate represents the amount taxpayers spent "above what it would have cost us" without the death penalty. Her report could not reach a conclusion, she said, on how much a life in prison system would have cost taxpayers over the same period.

On average, it cost $47,000 per year to incarcerate a prison inmate in California during the 2008-2009 fiscal year, according to the Legislative Analyst's Office.

The cost to house a death row inmate, however, is $90,000 more per year than for an inmate in the general prison population, said Mitchell. She attributed the higher cost to lengthy and complex death row court cases.

Death penalty court cases cost more than others, in part, because more attorneys are legally required to participate and more investigation is required. Costs also mount because death penalty appeals must be heard by the California Supreme Court, which has only 7 justices. That creates a bottleneck, Mitchell said, where each case can stretch a decade or more.

Without the death penalty, Zimring said the cost of trials and appeals would be "vastly less."

Our ruling

Tom Steyer said recently: "Since 1978, California has spent $5 billion to put 13 people to death."

But that cost has been spread over hundreds of cases since 1978, not just the 13 that led to executions.

California currently has more than 700 inmates on death row. Prosecuting and housing each costs the state significantly year after year.

Steyer's claim might have been correct if he had said taxpayers have spent $5 billion on a system that's resulted in 13 executions. Instead, his words leave the impression California paid the entire $5 billion for a fraction of its hundreds of cases.

We rate Steyer's claim Mostly False.


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