The memories and the horror are still sharp in the minds of our community. The passage of time hasn't yet allowed them to fade, blurring and dulling the edges.
Scott Peterson, convicted of the murder of his wife and unborn son, and Cary Stayner, convicted of killing a mother, her daughter and a friend in Yosemite, sit on San Quentin Prison's death row -- condemned for their crimes.
California has had laws on the books authorizing the death penalty for nearly all of its 162 years as a state. Those laws, and the use of capital punishment, have historically been intended to deter violence and punish those convicted of the most heinous crimes.
The system, however, is broken. California voters should support Proposition 34 and end the charade of the death penalty as a method of ultimate punishment in our state.
This position should not be construed as any form of sympathy for these criminals nor mercy towards them. Peterson, Stayner and their counterparts on death row have been convicted of brutal, unspeakable crimes and deserve the harshest possible punishment. The reality of the situation, however, is that none will likely face their death at the hands of the state anytime soon.
California has 729 prisoners awaiting execution. It has carried out 13 executions since 1992, when executions were resumed after the reinstatement of the death penalty. Each year, juries add about 20 convicted murderers to death row at San Quentin. There, they wait. Their convictions are appealed -- whether they want them to be or not. And they wait.
There are a number of problems with the current system, not the least of which is the lengthy appellate process, current legal challenges to the "cruel and unusual" nature of the execution method and the unrealistic promise of closure offered to the friends and families of victims.
The end of the death penalty would not mean those currently condemned would face any possibility of seeing the world again outside of prison walls. All such sentences would be replaced with sentences of life without the possibility of parole.
Emerging technology in evidence gathering and analysis also challenges the validity of the death penalty in California. There are several cases of capital punishment being carried out on people later exonerated or suspected of being innocent in Illinois, Georgia and other states. No one has yet demonstrated in California that an innocent person has been put to death, but there have been cases of persons convicted of murder and later cleared.
While not directly related to capital punishment crimes, in 2010 when an employee of the Ripon Crime Lab was arrested on suspicion of skimming drug stashes seized from local criminals, evidence results for between 1,900 and 3,000 drug cases in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties were called into question. Similar problems were identified in a San Francisco lab -- which was later closed -- potentially tainting 40,000 cases.
There isn't any doubt that California's justice system is strong. From local law enforcement to the prosecuting district attorneys to defense attorneys to judges, those who serve to enforce our laws take their jobs seriously and serve us well. But, as in every system that involves human beings, there is the potential for human error.
The current system of capital punishment allows animals like Peterson and Stayner to stay in the public spotlight through their numerous court appeals. Ending the perpetual appeals of the death penalty process effectively sentences them to a long, solitary life behind bars without further access to or from the public at large.
On November's ballot, Californians will have a chance through Proposition 34 to end the death penalty and replace it with a system of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. While it will never ease the pain of victims or return those they have lost, we urge you to support the end of an ineffective, failing system of justice.