We are continuing to push forward in our fight to reform the Death Penalty in California. Today, I spoke to members of our executive committee to discuss the next steps and begin the process of formulating our strategic plan.
Make no mistake. I will continue to push the fight forward and be the voice for victims. Justice delayed is justice denied, and that for me is an important motivating factor to remember when dealing with this issue. We must continue to fight for the families who lost their loved ones at the hands of California’s most violent criminals. For them, the pain never ends.
A few weeks ago I filmed an interview for CNN Death Row Stories and I was reminded of Kevin Cooper, one of San Bernardino County’s most notorious killers, who was sentenced to die in 1985 for killing a Chino Hills family and an 11-year-old neighbor who was visiting. Cooper has been sitting on death row for 30+ years. He has appealed 10 times each to the California Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court.
In its current form, our reform initiative will ask the voters of California to do three things: Reform the appeals process; reform death row housing and restitution; and reform the appointment of appellate counsel and agency oversight.
By applying these common sense reforms, we can ensure that the convicted receive their constitutional rights to a fair and speedy appeals process. Our initiative will move the first appeal to the California Court of Appeal and then to the California Supreme Court if necessary. The California Supreme Court is overloaded with death penalty appeals, causing lengthy and unnecessary delays. Spreading these appeals among the Courts of Appeal will allow the defendants’ claims to be heard sooner.
Currently, death row inmates spend their days in a single-person cell with their own television, radio and other luxury items. They are not required to work or pay restitution for their crimes. Death row inmates should be required to work in prison to pay restitution to their victims’ families consistent with the Victims’ Bill of Rights (Marsy’s law). Refusal to work and pay restitution should result in loss of special privileges.
Finally, reforming the existing inefficient appeals process for death penalty cases will ensure fairness for both defendants and victims. Capital defendants wait five years or more for appointments of their appellate lawyer. By providing prompt appointment of appellate attorneys, the defendant’s claims will be heard sooner when the evidence is still fresh and witnesses are still available.
One of the reasons for the delay is that the state agency that is supposed to expedite secondary review of death penalty cases operates with no effective oversight, causing delays and wasting taxpayer dollars. The California Supreme Court should be given the authority of oversight of this agency and tasked with ensuring accountability.
California’s 730-plus death row inmates have murdered more than 1,000 people, including 229 children and 43 police officers. I stand with the victims and their families to unite for changes in California’s death penalty system. California needs to stand by its promise to protect its citizens and bring justice to the victims.
For more information about our upcoming initiative, visit http://www.deathpenaltyreform.com