SF DA Gascón Has it Both Ways on Death Penalty

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    It's hard to get a read on San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón. The former registered Republican is now a Democratic candidate for the November election in San Francisco, and the former chief of police says he'd pursue the death penalty "in certain cases," but is “personally opposed” to capital punishment.

    Say what?

    The City's top prosecutor participated in a death penalty forum on Wednesday hosted by Public Defender Jeff Adachi. Gascón took the pro-death penalty stance, but said he would only pursue executions in "very heinous cases."

    Following the forum, he told political-junkie news site Fog City Journal that he's personally-opposed to the death penalty, but must uphold the law of the state of California, where executions are allowed.

    “I am personally against the death penalty,” he said, “but I cannot say categorically that I will not follow the law of the State.”

    Gascón has yet to pursue capital punishment. His two predecessors as SF DA, Terrance Hallinan and Kamala Harris, were both staunchly opposed to the death penalty.

    That stance cost Harris, as her refusal to pursue the death penalty in the case of a murder of a cop lost her support amongst the City's police force.

    But Gascón's stance could lose him votes -- and the DA job in the November election -- as an estimated 30-35 percent of San Francisco voters are "hardcore" opposed to capital punishment, the San Francisco Examiner reported.

    Gascón has already "automatically lost a chunk of San Francisco voters," with his death penalty stance, according to Peter Keane, professor emeritus at Golden Gate University School of Law.

    On Wednesday, Gascón was put in the uncomfortable position of defending the death penalty while sitting next to a former Death Row inmate.

    "I ask you to reconsider your position on the death penalty," said John T. Thompson, who spent 14 years on Death Row in Louisiana before he was exonerated. If that plea doesn't work, will the search for votes sway the DA?

    Maybe not. "Some people want a political answer, to an issue that is not a political issue," Gascón told the Examiner. "I'm not going to compromise."