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Lethal Blow 

With $2.9 million behind Proposition 34, California may become the 19th state to abolish the death penalty

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The possible innocence of the convicted is also of concern. "The issue of innocence is really foremost in people's minds," says Woodford, citing the cases of Franky Carrillo and Obie Anthony, two men who turned out to be innocent after lengthy prison sentences. "More and more people have been exonerated across the country. There's no coming back from the death penalty, and people are greatly concerned about that."

By July 12, funding for the campaign reached $2.9 million, propelled by significant donations from Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and the ACLU. Opponents of the proposition, like the Peace Officers Research Association and the Sacramento County Deputy Sheriffs' Association, have raised less than $45,000.

"There are some crimes—like murder, torture and raping and murdering children—for which a lesser punishment is simply not appropriate," says Kent Scheidegger of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which is against the ballot initiative but cannot afford to fund an opposition campaign. "It would be a travesty if someone like the Night Stalker [Richard Ramirez] got to live out his natural life in prison."

Another opponent—one that may seem surprising—is death row inmate Kevin Cooper. Cooper was sentenced to death in 1985 for the murder of a Chino Hills family of four. Cooper and his advocates insist on his innocence, but in an essay written from San Quentin, Cooper announced that he does not support the SAFE California Act, citing frustration that no death row inmates were asked their opinion on the initiative.

Cooper argues that a life sentence in a prison with "inhumane conditions" is simply another version of the death penalty. He further claims that those currently on death row will lose their ability to use the appeal process and legal habeas for case review.

Woodford has read Cooper's essay and sees flaws in his argument.

"The initiative does three simple things. It does not expand or shrink the kinds of crimes that are eligible for special circumstances," she says, adding that many inmates are already required to work and pay into a victim's restitution fund. "It just takes existing law and crosses out death penalty. It's a very simple initiative. It does nothing more than that."


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