California Braces For November Showdown Over Death Row Initiatives

Death penalty supporters are setting the stage for a November showdown over whether to speed up executions in California or do away with them entirely.

Nearly 750 convicted killers are sitting on the nation's largest death row, but no one has been executed in California in a decade because of ongoing legal challenges. Only 13 condemned inmates have been executed since 1978 — far more have died of natural causes or suicide.

Californians for Death Penalty Reform and Savings,A campaign to accelerate appeals for inmates on death row, says it has submitted signatures to appear on California's Nov. 8 ballot.

Californians for Death Penalty Reform and Savings, led by San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe, said it submitted 593,000 signatures Thursday at county registrar offices throughout the state. That's well above the 365,880 need to qualify for an increasingly crowded ballot. Authorities must validate about two-thirds of those signatures for it to make the ballot.

The initiative is largely intended to expedite death penalty sentences and stop legal delays According to Wagstaffe, one of the primary ways that could be done is through extending pool of defense attorneys handling death penalty cases. 

The initiative also includes an initiative that would allow for death row inmates to be housed in shared cells, instead of single cells, at maximum –security prisons.

Last month, a campaign for a competing measure to repeal California's death penalty submitted signatures to appear on the same ballot. Those in favor of the repeal often point to racial discrimination in the justice system and the possibility of wrongful convictions as a reason to vote against keeping the death penalty

"i would have thought one of the main worries about the death penalty is possibility for error .. convicting the wrong person,” said one onlooker. 

Supporters of the pro-death penalty measure held news conferences throughout the state to mark Thursday's milestone. They included many law enforcement officers, and Riverside resident and former NFL player Kermit Alexander, whose mother, sister and two nephews were murdered by a gang member who went to the wrong house, according to a news release. The shooter remains on death row.

Wagstaff is hoping to put an end to stories like Alexander's. 

"The department of corrections can put them wherever the department of corrections wherever they deem appropriate, and yes double-cell them, and yes, put them with other murderers who are out there," he said. 

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