Death Penalty Initiatives in the California Election

By: CEDP

We invite people to check this ongoing and vitally important election year project:

Voices From California’s Death Row. 

There are two initiatives that have made it on the ballot for the November election– Proposition 62 is called “The Justice that Works Act” and seeks to replace the death penalty with life without possibility of parole.

The other is Proposition 66 and is called the “Death Penalty Reform and Savings Act of 2016”.

CEDP mailed a questionnaire to everyone on death row in California to ask what their opinions of the propositions. We hope that folks will take the time to scroll through the dozens of responses presented in this blog.

The CEDP feels that it is critical to hear the voices of prisoners who will be most affected by the passage of either of these pieces of legislation. A few years ago, similar legislation to end the death penalty was proposed, and we hosted a forum much like this to discuss that legislation. Many abolitionists were critical of that legislation, in part because of it’s promotion of life without parole as an alternative, but also because of the money, earmarked exclusively for police and prosecutors, written into the bill.

However, things are different this time around. The competing legislation to restart the death penalty puts many prisoners perilously close to execution.

A de facto moratorium has been in place in California since 2006 because of a legal challenge to execution protocol.  As the state moves closer to instituting a new “humane” execution method, the danger of the moratorium being lifted grows ever closer.  Many cases have exhausted their appeals and there is a danger that several executions will be planned as soon as the moratorium is lifted.

These are important considerations in discussing the impact of death penalty repeal in California. Prisoners are crucial to this discussion – this forum is one platform where their voices are amplified.

Among the 46 people represented here there are a variety of opinion. Only one prisoner is in favor of the death penalty. All others oppose the death penalty, and many also oppose life without parole as an alternative to the death penalty. 17 are in favor of the Justice that Works Acts and 21 are against. Another 7 respondents are critical of the death penalty and prison system, are ambivalent about the legislation, and take no clear position.

Here, with their permission for us to publish, are their responses to our survey questions.

The survey questions were as follows:

1)      Would you like to see “The Justice that Works Act” passed or not? Why or why not?

2)       How do you feel about the replacement of life without the possibility of parole (LWOP), instead of the death penalty?

3)       How do you feel about the requirement that all those with LWOP sentences have to work (this would include all those currently on death row)?

4)      How do you feel about the mandate that all those with LWOP sentences have to pay 60% of their wages earned toward restitution if they have restitution orders in their case?

5)      There is also a ballot initiative called “The Death Penalty Reform and Savings Act” that seeks to speed up executions. If both pass, the one with the most votes will go into effect. Does that change how people should vote? Does that change your opinion of “The Justice that Works Act?

6) If you have other opinions about these initiatives please tell us.

Michael J. Schultz

Q1: No, would not like to see “The Justice that Works Act” passed because it is unfair and imposes an unfair hardship on both inmates and families.

Q2: I feel both Life without Possibility of Parole and Death Penalty are cruel and unusual forms of punishment especially for a nation such as ours (USA) that wishes to think of ourselves as civilized. The first step in becoming civilized is to stop with these forms of punishment. People, I believe, can be rehabilitated.

Q3: Obviously not all inmates can work – if they are unable (i.e. medically, etc.) But work is good for people and they should be paid a fair wage. Nobody should have to be forced to work.

Q4: Having to pay 60% is wrong. This imposes an unfair tax on inmate’s families. If an inmate owes a restitution then perhaps they should only take from what an inmate earns and not what their family and friends send to them.

Q5: This question makes no sense because if a ballot measure passes to abolish capital punishment, then that should supersede any other measure. The point is moot about speeding up executions.

Q6: As with Q1 both death penalty and life without are cruel forms of punishment and life without may be worse, because it’s a lingering slow death, whereas the death penalty is finite. My opinion is that we must send the circle of violence if we ever with to become a civilized society. People can be redeemed.

From Michael J. Schultz

Glenn Cornwell

In response to your request that we write our thoughts on whether we’re for or against the applicate of the Death Penalty, my thoughts on the topic reads as follows: If you look at how people of color are being gunned down for no reason, wheat makes you think the evidence gathers, courts and district attorney’s aren’t in bed with defense attorneys against the accused in the worst of the worst cases? What leads you to believe investigators aren’t convincing people it’s their civic duty to testify, misidentify and abuse the process?

               Actually, the Constitution states all D.P. Cases should be back in court within a year. Calikkk created “Policy three.” It calls for a record correction, direct appeal, and then Habeas. The process takes between ten and fifteen years. In violation of the U.S. Constitution. Also, in California, the courts charge 187pc, then use 190 PC to add the aggravating or mitigating circumstances to charge special circumstance. Federal law says the must charge 189 PC to get to 190.. 187PC is a malice second degree murder. The California Supreme Court claims it’s “tradition to charge 187 and not 189.”

               It’s also tradition to burn black free towns and buy Indian Scalps for five dollars each. Federal Law says they should charge 189 pc.  This means if the charge is legally wrong, the jury didn’t get the right jury instruction, therefore the verdict can’t be reliable. The lapse in allowing Habeas Corpus to take ten to fifteen years to be heard is a due process violation. Evidence is lost and fades, also 80 people have died, and only thirteen were executed. Those who committed suicide and dies from this and that, may times died without access to the process.

               Lastly, D.P. Juries have to “Death Penalty Qualified”, meaning mostly conservative and pink. O.J. had two murders and didn’t face the D.P. Manny Babbitt had one murder and was executed. Manny fought in Khe Sanh in Vietnam, did two tours and was a real hero. That’s my problem…..

               My last concern reads as follows: I was convicted of the murder-robbery with the use of weapon in April 1995. In 2003, the inmate who was the cellie of the inmate who gave me this case (and was let out of jail for his lying testimony), originally had made the same statement about knowing me. He recanted his statement and admitted he really didn’t know me.

               Lastly since 2007, I’ve been in the Eastern District Court. Since then the Magistrate Judges have passed this case to six different Judges. All of them start off claiming they’re gonna “deal with this case and let the chips fall where they may.”  Six months to a year later it’s, “I wouldn’t touch this case with a ten foot pole,” or “You are never to mention my name as every having been involved in this case.” So my question to you is: If this system of doing things is so lawless, what makes you have confidence in any of the convictions? Also since twenty five percent of the inmates cleared by DNA evidence CONFESSED to the crimes they were sentenced to die, how can you not sue for some reasonable sentence like countries such as Germany and Holland?  If Hitler’s people could take the sticks out of their behinds, there’s hope for you yet.

From Glenn Cornwell

Dora Buenrostro

  1. Would you like to see “The Justice that Works Act” passed or not? Why or why not?

I would like “The Justice That Works Act” passed because we will be with general population.

  1. How do you feel about the replacement of Life Without the Possibility of Parole (LWOP), instead of the death penalty?

I feel the replacement of life without the possibility of parole is better even though the person spends the rest of her life in jail.

  1. How do you feel about the requirement that all those with LWOP sentences have to work (this would include all those currently on death row)?

I feel is a very good thing to be able to work even if you have a LWOP sentence.

  1. How do you feel about the mandate that all those with LWOP sentences would have to pay 60% of their wages earned toward restitution if they have restitution orders in their case?

I don’t feel that those people with LWOP sentences should have to pay 60% of their wages earned toward restitution.

  1. There is also a ballot initiative called “The Death Penalty Reform and Savings Act” that seeks to speed up executions. If both pass, the one with the most votes will go into effect. Does that change how people should vote? Does that change your opinion of the Justice that Works Act?

People should hold on executions, even if the voters vote no. It should change how people should vote, we are humans, just like them. My opinion is that the Supreme Court makes mistakes.

From Dora Buenrostro

Brooke Rottiers

  1. Would you like to see “The Justice that Works Act” passed or not? Why or why not?

The reasons why I do want to see “The Justice That Works Act” pass is because killing anyone is wrong.  I do not sleep at night due to the crimes that put me on Death Row.  For the past 10 years I’ve not had even one full night of sleep.  This, among other things, is my cross to carry.  Would you be able to sleep if you chose to not save an innocent life? Obviously death row is not full of innocent people, but some have been wrongly convicted and face death because of it. We should all be sentenced to Life Without the Possibility of Parole and mandated to work and pay the victims families’ restitution.  Of course monetary support cannot replace a lost loved ones’ life…LWOPP sentences still ensures that the convicted will not ever be free, we will still die alone in prison. Yes a harsh punishment and harsh reality…but we should help the victims’ families by working as well.

  1.      How do you feel about the replacement of Life Without the Possibility of Parole (LWOP), instead of the death penalty?

I feel that replacing the Death Penalty with LWOPP is realistic and justice. As it is now, on “The Row”, we are here with this “execution” sentence, knowing we’ll sooner die of natural causes. We should be made to work & help the families of our victims. Now we sit around, talk, read, watch T.V., write letters and use the phone. The Devil is the owner of idol time. As LWOPPs we’ll be busy working for the families, also be able to attend Religious Services. Our Creator did not have a hand in what we did to land on “The Row”, but He could still have a plan for us…”  Turn from Evil and do Good for the Lord loves justice and He will never abandon”  (Psalms 37:27)

  1. How do you feel about the requirement that all those with LWOP sentences have to work (this would include all those currently on death row)?

Yes, I do agree that LWOPP sentences should work and pay 60% of WORK INCOME to victim’s restitution. However, if it is NOT money we’ve earned working, then NO.  Why? Some inmates receive money from family and friends, that money should not pay restitution for the crimes they are not responsible for. Our work wages should pay this, not theirs.

  1. How do you feel about the mandate that all those with LWOP sentences would have to pay 60% of their wages earned toward restitution if they have restitution orders in their case?

My response to #3 answers this question as well…Yes I do agree that LWOPPS should pay 60% of EARNED WORK WAGES to victim’s restitution for their families.

  1. There is also a ballot initiative called “The Death Penalty Reform and Savings Act” that seeks to speed up executions. If both pass, the one with the most votes will go into effect. Does that change how people should vote? Does that change your opinion of the Justice that Works Act?

“The Death Penalty Reform & Savings Act” on the ballot is not an initiative that can be compared to “The Justice That Works Act”. “The Death Penalty Reform & Savings Act” is an initiative that does NOTHING to save California money NOW nor does it help the victim’s families NOW.  This initiative does NOT affect the almost 1,000 inmates who are currently on Death Row. The present cost will continue to be the same for decades. It only affects the persons that get sentenced to death after January 1, 2017. So all it “reforms” right now is paperwork. “The Justice That Works Act” saves California money NOW and helps victim’s families NOW. Therefore, my opinion of “The Justice that Works Act” has not changed.

  1. If you have other opinions about these initiatives please tell us.

 I think all my opinions are clear. But allow me to make a few more points. Killing people does nothing but cause pain to those who love the deceased. A murderer and a victim have something in common: Both are someone’s mother-father, daughter-son; sister-brother; aunt-uncle; wife-husband; cousin or friend. Not only have the victims’ families innocently been affected by these crimes, the convicts families too are innocently affected. Where does the hurting of innocent people stop? It can stop right here, right now, with “The Justice That Works Act”. We should be sentenced from death to LWOPP working daily to help the victims’ families. It’s taken an average of 15 years to find innocent Death Row inmates who’ve been wrongly sentenced to death. You have to ask yourself as a voter “are you comfortable with possibility killing an innocent woman or man as the real killer still roams the streets freely.”  LWOPPs will never be possible for parole – never see freedom. No more innocent people need to be killed.  As a California voter you should also know that on the Death Certificate of an executed inmate, the cause of death still reads: “HOMICIDE”.

From Brooke Rottiers

Tracy Dearl Cain

I am writing this letter in response to your request for comments from CA Death Row inmates regarding the proposed Justice that Works Act, 2016.

My name is Tracy Dearl Cain. I’ve been on California Death Row going on 30 years now. I am a reasonably intelligent man. This is my personal response to the Justice that Works Act of 2016. I can’t speak for the entire Death Row population.  Personally, it’s hard for me to get around the idea that advocates for justice could structure a proposal that eludes the very essence of what justice stands for: Fairness.

There’s a beautiful saying, “Hope springs eternal.” The truth is this proposal leaves the current Death Row population nothing to hope for. And on top of that, e very single person currently on Death Row has been found guilty, once again, according to this new proposal. There’s not even a mere mention of any person possibly being innocent. In this proposition, the authors speak passionately about not wanting to see another innocent person executed, but then go on to ignore any and all probability of innocence altogether. I find myself wondering if somehow, the Justice That Works advocates feel that the Death Row population should be grateful for this proposal.  I am not.  There are a lot of things that I personally feel should have gotten some realistic consideration when this proposal was being drafted, such as the countless Death Row inmates who have spent decades on Death Row actually having a legitimate chance at parole.

The reality of atonement and redemption, even the actuality of prisoners furthering their educations, reclaiming their self-respect and dignity, and just as important, finding inner peace and strength to become better persons, inside and out, and above all, gaining better attitudes and appreciation for all life, especially while not forgetting the pain and suffering that their actions caused the victim(s)’ family and loved ones. These kinds of individuals do exist on Death Row. I know because I am most surely one of them.

The actuality of such redemption happens on Death Row, even in this environment, where it’s almost impossible to be a model prisoner in a place that breeds and feeds off of every evil enmity known to mankind.  Yet, it doesn’t stop individuals from trying and growing to become better people.

My question to you, the authors, is this: technically how much time does a person convicted of murder have to serve in order to be deemed worthy of his/her freedom again? We can all agree that the purpose for prisons is punishment. But you can only punish a prisoner for so long before there is no further gain. When does his/her actual rehabilitation become as important as the punishment? It’s no secret inside these prisons today, the notion of rehabilitation is frowned upon due to the administrators having their own counter agenda. That agenda is to keep punishing the prisoners even after the prisoners have exceeded the time necessary for the crimes for which they were convicted.

If this proposed initiative were to come to fruition, which I personally hope it doesn’t, why would any reasonable, thinking person agree to a mandate that would turn Death Row inmates into modern day slaves by making each one pay 60% in restitution to the families of their alleged/actual victims’ families for the duration of their lives. Isn’t this a form of slavery? Of course it is. Not only is it obnoxious, but it’s also insulting to every prisoner I’m sure. But, I have a suggestion. The prison has an inmate welfare fund. I believe you wouldn’t get any argument from any prisoner about using those funds to go to assisting families of victims who are in need of assistance.

This proposal is full of despair for Death Row inmates. This proposal says that no Death Row inmate is redeemable or worthy of a second chance outside of this modern day plantation. It is disheartening for many inmates to read a proposal that offers them nothing short of continuous despair and oppression.

I would have to say to you who proposed this injustice-filled act, no thank you. I would rather take my chances with this corrupt judicial/legal system. I feel I have a much better shot at someone being able to stand up for me and possibly have some rely empathy for e and everyone else on Death Row. I, like so many other, don’t’ want to remain in a life of servitude.

Respectfully,

Tracy Dearl Cain

CA Death Row Inmate