Oklahoma should develop execution protocol for nitrogen gas, AG Scott Pruitt
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,
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
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
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
Thrice previously, Bataillon has set a death-penalty hearing - only to have
Jenkins behave erratically and be declared incompetent before it could take
(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
"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
-- 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
-- Beat and left for dead a man who was scheduled to testify against a gang
-- 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
"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.
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
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
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
"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
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
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."
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
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
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.
A service courtesy of Washburn University School of Law www.washburnlaw.edu
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