Replacing Calif. Death Penalty Gains Political Steam

Signature drive first salvo in long battle ahead for group.

Proponents of a ballot initiative that would replace the death  penalty with life imprisonment without parole in California gathered in San  Francisco Tuesday to launch a signature-gathering campaign.

Supporters of the SAFE California Act need to gather 500,000  signatures by March 18, 2012 to place the initiative on the November 2012  ballot.

Supporters of the legislation who gathered on the steps of City  Hall included a former San Quentin warden, Supervisor Scott  Weiner, and Natasha Minsker, a former criminal defender and campaign manager  for SAFE CA.

Minsker highlighted the financial costs of inmates on death row.  Each execution costs taxpayers approximately $308 million, according to  Minsker.

Individual cells, multiple prison escorts, trials and  investigations, as well as extensive and costly federal and state appeals  make up the majority of those costs, Minsker said.

  "It takes money from the community without giving anything back,"  said Lorrain Taylor, the mother of 22-year-old twins who were murdered in  Oakland in 2000. Taylor argued that the money spent on the death penalty  could be better used to investigate unsolved cases of murder and rape.

Among those who spoke out against the death penalty was Maurice  Caldwell, who served 20 years in prison for a murder conviction before being  found innocent and released in March 2011.

"The system in not perfect. I'm here today. I could have been  convicted and faced the death penalty," Caldwell said.

According to a Field Poll released on Sept. 29, 48 percent of  California voters prefer life sentence without parole, while 40 percent  prefer the death penalty for those convicted of capital crimes.

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