IN THE NEWS: Inland DAs take sides in death penalty measures


BY MICHAEL J. WILLIAMS / STAFF WRITER

Proponents of the Nov. 8 ballot propositions 62 and 66 agree on one thing -- California’s death penalty system is an unequivocal mess.

They completely disagree on what to do about it.

Prop. 62 would get rid of the death penalty altogether while making life in prison without parole the state’s maximum penalty.

Prop. 66 would reform the criminal justice system’s handling of death penalty cases with the goal of speeding them up.

“(Prop. 66) is going to create a better system, a system of due process that is going to fix the broken appellate system,” said San Bernardino District Attorney Mike Ramos, co-chairman of the Yes on 66 campaign, at a press conference in Murrieta on Friday.

If passed, the measure would designate Superior Court for initial death penalty appeal petitions, limit successive petitions, establish a time frame for court reviews, require appointed attorneys who take noncapital punishment appeals to accept death penalty cases and authorize the transfers of death row inmates to other California prisons.

Spokesman Jacob Hay for the Yes on 62 campaign said passage of Prop. 66 is not the antidote.

“Both sides agree the death penalty is failing,” Hay said. “The system has grounded to a halt and is not a deterrent to crime.

“(Prop. 66) takes all the problems with the death penalty and makes them worse. In an effort to fix the system, which hasn’t been able to be fixed in 40 years, Prop. 66 tries to rush justice, moves death penalty cases to local courts and puts taxpayers on the hook for attorneys.”

In replacing the death penalty with life without parole, Prop. 62 would apply retroactively to those now sentenced to death and require inmates sentenced to life without parole to work with the state correction system’s program.

Clarence Ray Allen was the last California inmate to be executed on Jan. 17, 2006, after spending 23 years and one month on Death Row in San Quentin prison.

According to an Aug. 5 corrections department report, there are now 746 inmates who could be executed if their cases ever cleared the prerequisite appeals. Among counties, Riverside, with 89, is second to Los Angeles with the most inmates on Death Row. San Bernardino County has 40.

Both measures would increase maximum-sentenced inmates’ pay to be applied to victim restitution. Proponents of both say their solution would save millions of dollars.

 

Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin, who is the campaign’s regional chairman, said he has faith in voters.

“I believe the people of California are going to do the right thing and pass this initiative,” he said.

Hestrin, Ramos and other Prop 66 supporters at the Murrieta function were accompanied by Mary Ann and Bill Hughes. Their 11-year-old son Christopher Hughes was murdered in 1983 at a neighbor’s house along with the father, mother and 10-year-old daughter of the Chino Hills household.

The man convicted of the murders, Kevin Cooper, remains on Death Row.

“Since then, our family has been put through our own special hell,” Mary Ann Hughes said.



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