Unusual Advocates: A Change of Heart

A recent New York Times article featured Donald Heller, a former prosecutor who authored California’s death penalty law, and Ron Briggs, a Republican who led the campaign to reinstate the law in 1978.  Thirty-four years later, both men are helping to lead the fight for repeal of the death penalty in California, replacing it with life without parole. The money saved would be used to solve cold cases.

Heller and Briggs had a change of heart for moral reasons but also because they realized that capital punishment has been “a colossal failure.” In addition to concerns that it does not provide swift justice, causing victims’ families even more pain, they are also very troubled by the enormous financial burden that their law created. Although California has not carried out an execution in six years, it has  720 inmates on death row and continues to spend $184 million a year to maintain its death penalty system. They are hopeful that although polls show that public support for the death penalty remains high, that the cost argument will resonate with people from across the political spectrum.

Other big names supporting the November ballot initiative to repeal the death penalty include Jeanne Woodford, who served as the warden at San Quentin State Prison and oversaw four executions during her tenure, and Gil Garcetti, a former Los Angeles district attorney.

(Photo: Donald Heller, author of California’s death penalty law, speaking out against the death penalty. Courtesy of davisvanguard.org)

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