California voters were asked on Election Day if they wanted to end the death penalty. They voted to continue to punish by execution despite fresh evidence of the moral and fiscal costs.
The ballot measure would have repealed execution as a penalty, shut down death row in the San Quentin state prison and established a $100 million fund to investigate unsolved murders and rapes. Death sentences would have been converted to life without parole. It was defeated in a 52 to 47 percent vote margin on Nov. 6.
"The people of California sent a clear message that the death penalty should still be implemented for those who commit the most heinous and unthinkable crimes," said McGregor Scott, the former U.S. attorney for Sacramento who served as the opposition's co-chairman according to CBS News.
The polling place verdict came despite new evidence of the cost of killing convicted prisoners, a practice the state resumed in 1978.
The price tag for the 13 executions since then is $4 billion, according to a report produced by a former appeals court judge.
Supporters of the ballot measure outspent death penalty advocates $6.5 million to $1 million in a campaign run by the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU spent $700,000.
But death penalty advocates continued to insist that convicted murderers and rapists should not be warehoused by the state. In addition to punishing the guilty by ending their life, advocates of execution said there are safety risks associated with keeping people alive who have nothing to lose, said Michael Rushford of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, a non-profit public interest law organization.
“If Prop 34 were to pass, we would have 726 of the worst murderers in the country under our care,” Rushford said. “Life-sentenced murderers have no incentive not to kill a guard, cellmate, or people on the outside.”
NAACP CEO and President Benjamin Jealous said the close results of the vote on the ballot initiative showed that “we came much closer than many thought was possible” to ending the death penalty.
He said that the debate “really raises a question, quite frankly, for the Catholic church in this country, about whether or not, when it comes to the doctrine of life, are they willing to go as far in ending the death penalty as they are in trying to end abortion?
“Because if they’re willing to really dive in on the issue of the death penalty, then we could actually get rid of this much quicker,” he said in a Democracy Now radio interview.