The latest attempt to abolish California’s death penalty is moving forward at the State Capitol. At the bill’s first committee hearing Thursday, the bill passed on a party-line vote.
A lot of people testified before the Assembly Public Safety Committee, and they all seemed to hang around afterwards in the hallway. One person attracting a lot of attention in that hallway was Don Heller. He wrote California’s original death penalty initiative, back in 1978. Now, he says, the system he created is so flawed, it’s not even worth fixing.
“When I crafted it, it was designed to be implemented in a fair and impartial way regardless of skin color, regardless of wealth or stature in the community,” said Heller. “It hasn’t functioned that way. And the cost of it is just enormous. It is just not worth keeping.”
Heller joined the former warden at San Quentin State Prison and other death penalty critics in support of the measure by Democratic State Senator Loni Hancock. Opponents included victim’s rights groups and the law enforcement community.
Cory Salzillo, with the California District Attorneys Association, said, “we feel that there are problems with the administration of the death penalty as it currently is administered, and as much as we’re not carrying out executions. But we feel that it’s a situation that we should attempt to remedy rather than ejecting the entire possibility of a death penalty going forward.”
Hancock’s bill faces several hurdles before capital punishment would be abolished: first, it has to pass the legislature. Then, Governor Jerry Brown would have to sign it. And finally, voters would have to approve an initiative – at the 2012 November election.