Voices against Prop 34 on the death penalty

By Kat Bouza

Listen to an audio story from Annenberg Radio News

imageFormer Governors Gray Davis, Pete Wilson and George Deukmejian gathered with victims’ families Tuesday in Downtown Los Angeles to gather last-minute support against abolishing the death penalty.

While the death penalty is often considered a moral issue, Proposition 34 has instead focused on the high cost to California taxpayers.

Supporters have indicated stopping the death penalty would save the state nearly $100 million dollars — something the Superior Court deemed hyperbolic and forced Prop 34 supporters to remove from campaign materials.

Still, the race remains tight.

Numbers released today indicate that 48 percent of voters are against Proposition 34, compared to the 41 percent who wish to eliminate capital punishment.

Joe Bonaminio opposes the initiative. His son, Riverside police officer Ryan Bonaminio, was gunned down while on duty in November 2010.

“I don’t know about the financial end of it,” Bonamino admits. “Personally speaking, there’s no way in this world I would want to see the death penalty abolished. If you read the stories about the victims, I think you’d have a better understanding of why we want the death penalty.”

A non-partisan study by the California Legislative Analyst’s Office concludes that any projected savings due to the initiative may be off by “tens of millions of dollars.”

Governor Wilson underscored the potential threats to public safety, saying, “There is nothing that is more important than a climate of public safety for our citizens. There is nothing I would argue that possibly allows justice to be subordinated to false claims of savings, or even legitimate claims…There’s nothing in Prop 34 that guarantees that. “

But financial concerns aren’t what victims’ families care about.

Last December, Catherine Burke and her husband experienced the unthinkable — their 18 year-old daughter, Saskia Burke, was stabbed to death in the family’s Murrietta home by an acquaintance.

Burke says that, while seeking the death penalty for her daughter’s killer carries its own moral weight, nothing can match the suffering experienced by the Burke family: “I carry that guilt, I carry that regret and that shame and that horror. And he carries none of it. He smiled as he stabbed my daughter…Where do we draw the moral line for those that will never feel moral obligation or responsibility in society? We can’t call them moral creatures.”

Whatever the moral argument, if Prop 34 is defeated, all present today admit it would still only be a small justice for the many victims of those on California’s death row.

‘Grim Sleeper’ pleads not guilty to alleged murders

The “Grim Sleeper,” a former mechanic suspected of killing at least 10 women in South Los Angeles, pleaded not guilty Monday, the Los Angeles Wave reported.

Private attorney Louisa Pensanti, who is representing the defendant for free, entered the plea for 57-year-old Lonnie Franklin Jr. As the Daily News reported, Franklin spoke very little during his arraignment in downtown Los Angeles.

Police captured Franklin July 7 after they linked his DNA to evidence found at different scenes; investigators determined that Franklin’s son had DNA similar to the killer. They obtained Franklin’s DNA and discovered that his matched alleged evidence from murders committed between 1985 and 1988, and between 2002 and 2007.

Since his capture last month, Franklin has been held in jail without bail. He allegedly murdered all of the women just a few miles from his South Los Angeles home.
The name “Grim Sleeper” comes from the defendant’s 14-year break between supposed murders.

Family and friends of victims attended the hearing.

Franklin will appear in court Sept. 14 when a pre-trial date will be set. The court will determine whether there is enough evidence to require Franklin to stand trial.

If convicted, the defendant can possibly face the death penalty.

Protesters seek decreases in prison spending

William Grant held a magnifying glass to his eyes and read a speech to community members gathered at a protest in South Los Angeles. Legally blind, he testified his supplemental security income has been cut by $100 a month, making it difficult for him to pay his expenses.

On-lookers shook their heads when Grant shared that the state pays over $50,000 a year for his son to be incarcerated in jail, while his resources have been cut.

Grant’s son was convicted and sentenced according to the Three Strikes law for stealing a 10-speed bicycle from his then-girlfriend’s garage.

According to Families Against California Three Strikes (FACTS), Grant’s son is among 57 percent of Third Strikers that were incarcerated for a non-violent offense.

Grant ended his address by urging people to demand that the Three Strikes law, which was introduced in 1994, be modified to violent crimes only.

Protestors asked for legislators to reform the Three Strikes law, the death penalty and to implement the Federal Court order on prison overcrowding.

Students, teachers, and community members held signs in front of Manual Arts High School chanting phrases such as, “the power of the youth don’t stop.”

Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB), FACTS, and other organizations arranged the event.

Army Cachero held a brightly decorated sign reading, “educate don’t incarcerate.” Representing the Asian Pacific AIDS Intervention Team, Cachero was diagnosed with HIV in 2002.
Cachero said disease education, counselor support and medical expenses are publicly funded by the state. He worries the state’s budget crisis and their commitment to jails will cut funding of programs that support him and other HIV positive people.

Other speakers expressed their concerns through art.

David Montes, a senior high school student, rapped a piece titled, “Schools not Jails.” Alejandra Lemus from the Community Rights Campaign group wrote a poem for the event narrating, “is it really a stretch to ask for books, not bars?”

Organizers passed out letters from Stop the Cuts Coalition and CURB for attendants to sign that will be sent to the State Assembly Speaker Karen Bass. The letter urges the state to re-invest money into communities, and support the Federal Court’s order to reduce prison populations by 44,000. It argues that, “Experts agree that reducing the prison population will not threaten public safety.”

While some support the current Three Strikes law and other prison policies, the purpose of the protest was to argue that the increase in prison spending decreases funding in education.

Katie Briggs, a teacher at Manual Arts High School, says cuts in education are “guaranteeing a bleak future.” She continued to ask, “Why invest in the death penalty? Why invest in something final? Let’s invest in something progressive. Let’s invest in something we know in the end helps every one of us. And that’s education.”