A. Garcia / SFVS

Alemany High School students rally in support of Proposition 62, which would eliminate the death penalty in California. On November 8, voters will also decide on Proposition 66, that maintains and speeds up the execution of death row inmates.

On Saturday, Sept. 24, student Thomas Malagon held a sign at the entrance to Alemany High School in Mission Hills showing a checkmark next to “Prop. 62,” and an “x” alongside “Prop. 66.”

Several other students — all members of Pax Christi (Peace of Christ) Los Angeles — held signs supporting Prop. 62. Some drivers did double takes, and others honked as the students cheered.

The event was held in conjunction with other efforts in Los Angeles as faith communities worked to get out the vote in favor of one of the most contentious of the 17 statewide propositions Californians will decide on Nov. 8.

“The Pope has called for a Year of Mercy. We’re trying to promote mercy. We really need to put an end to the death penalty,” said Malagon, 17, a Mission Hills resident who attends Alemany High School.

When asked about the feelings of those who might believe otherwise after losing a loved one in a heinous crime, Malagon offers a ready answer.

“God teaches us to love your enemies. We’re called to forgive, even in the hardest circumstances. Love is unconditional,” he said.

Natalie Olivares, another Alemany High School student at the rally, also supports Prop. 62.

“Everybody deserves a second chance and redemption,” said Olivares, 14. “They can change while they’re in prison. They can think how much this affected them and learn to be a better person.”

Prop. 62, the Repeal of the Death Penalty Initiative, is in a bruising battle with Prop. 66, the Death Penalty Procedures Initiative. 

Both initiatives would require current death row inmates to work and pay restitution to victims. But they take opposite approaches to fix what both call a broken system.

Proposition 62 would repeal the state death penalty and replace the maximum punishment for murder with life in prison without the possibility of parole. It would apply retroactively to those already sentenced to death. Among its supporters are Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Vermont US Senator Bernie Sanders, as well as former President Jimmy Carter and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Proposition 66, on the other hand, would keep the death penalty in the state, limit the number of petitions prisoners can file to challenge their convictions and sentences, and provide new deadlines intended to expedite appeals. It has the support of Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey and Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell, as well as former Gov. Pete Wilson and the California Republican Army.

If both Prop. 62 and Prop. 66 pass, the one with the most votes will prevail.

Life Instead of Death

Proponents of Prop 62 argue that the death penalty currently costs 17 times as much to administer as life in prison without parole. California taxpayers have spent $5 billion since 1978 to put thirteen people to death, at a cost of $384 million per execution.

In addition to being costly, the death penalty has proven to be ineffective, supporters claim. It drags out the legal process for decades, denying closure to many victims’ families.

Despite the current lengthy appeals process guaranteed under the state constitution, the risk of executing an innocent person is unavoidable. DNA technology and new evidence have proven the innocence of 66 people in California who had their murder convictions overturned because new evidence showed they were innocent.

Speed up Executions

Prop. 66’s provisions include expanding the pool of available defense attorneys so death penalty appeals can proceed quickly, requiring that a defendant who is sentenced to death is appointed a lawyer at the time of sentencing rather than waiting for years just to get a lawyer, allowing the Department of Corrections to house condemned inmates in less costly housing with fewer special privileges while still maintaining strong security.

It would enable the Department of Corrections to enact an execution protocol without having to reply to every question or suggestion by any citizen who sends them a letter. It also gives the state Supreme Court oversight over the state agency that manages death penalty appeals.

“With the qualification of the California Death Penalty Reform measure for the ballot this November, we will give Californians the chance to make their communities safer, to bring justice to the very worst of the worst criminals, and some closure and peace to the families of the victims of the most horrible of crimes,” stated Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, Co-Chair of the Californians for Death Penalty Reform and Savings Campaign.

Prop. 62 The Early Leader

A Field Poll released Sept. 22 shows that Prop. 62 was favored by 48 percent to 37 percent, with 15 percent of voters still undecided. The same report showed that Prop. 66 received 35 percent support. Another 23 percent would vote against it and 42 percent were undecided.

The measures come four years after California voters narrowly rejected Proposition 34, an initiative that would have replaced capital punishment with life in prison without parole. And 11 years after the last execution in the state, that of Stanley “Tookie” Williams.

One of the founders and leaders of the notorious Los Angeles street gang the West Side Crips, Williams was convicted of murder in 1981 for gunning down convenience store clerk Albert Owens, 26, at a 7-Eleven store in Whittier and killing Yen-I Yang, 76, Tsai-Shai Chen Yang, 63, and the couple’s daughter Yu-Chin Yang Lin, 43, at the Los Angeles motel they owned.

Williams claimed he was innocent, though subsequent court reviews concluded that there was no compelling reason to grant a retrial.

Once incarcerated he authored several books, including anti-gang and anti-violence literature, and children’s books.

On Dec. 13, 2005, Williams was executed by lethal injection after clemency and a four-week stay of execution were both rejected by then Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger amid an intense debate over the death penalty.