Politics, government and public life for Southern California

California voters keep the death penalty, reject Proposition 34

Rina Palta / KPCC

Bethany Webb, whose sister was killed in a massacre at a Seal Beach hair salon, was part of a large coalition formed in an effort to end California's death penalty.

Proposition 34, the initiative that would have replaced the death penalty with life without parole in California, failed by almost 6 points. 

The vote marked the first time in decades that the voting public has been asked to consider the efficacy and ethics of capital punishment. In 1978, voters passed Proposition 7, which engraved the death penalty into the state's penal code, with polls showing solid popular support for the punishment ever since.

But Proposition 34's backers put on a strong campaign, raising over $7 million, airing television ads, and forging a coalition of former prison officials, crime victims, and judges to tour the state and lend law enforcement credibility to the cause. 

And the timing, to organizers, seemed right: a budget crisis, a public less willing to spend money on prisons, and a stalled death penalty system that's been mired in litigation for years, effectively halting executions in the state. 

The "no" campaign, by contrast, was relatively modest, with mostly a web-based effort to defeat Proposition 34. But death penalty supporters had California's historical support for the punishment on their side. As recently as 2010, a Field Poll showed 70 percent of eligible voters favored preserving the death penalty. 

With the death penalty reaffirmed in the state, prison officials return to work on crafting a lethal injection protocol that meets the requirements of state and federal judges who've put holds on executions in California. There are 13 inmates who've exhausted all appeals and are eligible for execution dates. 

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