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. 

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Proposition 34: Should California fix or nix its death penalty?

Rina Palta / KPCC

Bethany Webb holds a photo from her wedding of her and her sister, Laura. Laura Webb died in a massacre at a Seal Beach hair salon in 2011.

Bethany Webb’s Huntington Beach home is filled with family photos. Many of her little sister, Laura. Laura Webb was fatally shot just over a year ago, in the Seal Beach hair salon where she worked. Her mother was wounded too, but survived. Prosecutors say a man, angry at his ex-wife who worked there, donned a bulletproof vest, walked into the salon, and killed eight people. Witnesses said Webb begged for her life before the shooter turned on her.

“My sister died afraid," Webb says. "I wake up in the middle of the night, thinking how afraid she was. And that he will never be afraid."

"He" is Scott Evans Dekraai, the man prosecutors say committed the killings. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Dekraai. But history tells us that if Dekraii is convicted and sentenced to death, he’ll be transferred to a secure, sedate cell on California’s death row, far from the customary horrors of prison life, and with a team of lawyers devoted to his case.

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