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Death Penalty Initiative Qualifies, DA Candidates Opine (Badly), LA Thinks About April 30, 1992…& Much More

by Celeste Fremon and Taylor Walker

While WLA was dark earlier this week,
a few things happened that we wanted to make sure you didn’t miss:


First of all, on Monday, the initiative known as the SAFE California Act, officially qualified for the ballot. This means that, in November, Californians will have the opportunity to vote on a measure that would ban the death penalty in the state, in favor of life without the possibility of parole.

The death penalty is alarmingly disproportionately applied to people of color, particularly African Americans.

Jeanne Woodford, who was formerly the head of the California Department of Corrections, and the former warden of San Quentin prison, is one of the ballot measure’s most vocal supporters, and was quoted in the press release announcing the measure’s official approval by California Secretary of State Debra Bowen.

“I oversaw four executions at San Quentin,” said Woodford. “I can tell you as a law enforcement officer with 34 years of experience those executions did not make any one of us safer. What they did do was consume millions of dollars in resources that would be better spent on solving crime. Now, Californians will have a real chance to improve personal safety by replacing the death penalty with life in prison without parole, and directing some of the savings to solving more rape and murder cases.”

The fact that the initiative has qualified in California is eliciting a lot of comment from outside the state.

For example, there is this from the International Business Times by Ashley Portero:

….Studies conducted in multiple states have concluded that carrying out inmate executions is ultimately more expensive than sentencing them to life without parole, further leading capital punishment opponents to question the logic of the system.

California taxpayers alone have spent more than $4 billion on the 13 inmate executions the state has performed since 1978, according to a three-year study published in the Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review last year. The study estimated the costs of capital trials, enhanced security on death row and legal representation for death penalty defendants adds $184 million to California’s budget each year.

Similar studies have been conducted in at least 9 other states since 2000, all of which have concluded imposing the death penalty is exorbitantly more expensive than a life-without-parole sentence. A 2001 report from the National Bureau of Economic Research concluded that capital crime trials place huge and unexpected burdens on country budgets, often leading them to counter those high costs by defunding public projects and increasing taxes….

Also, the Death Penalty Information Fact Sheet has some interesting statistics pertaining to the topic….such as these:

-California had 723 death row inmates as of Jan. 2012 (the second highest, Florida, had 402).

-Over 130 people have been exonerated since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1973.

-“A 2010 poll by Lake Research Partners found that a clear majority of voters (61%) would choose a punishment other than the death penalty for murder.”

There’s more, so check it out.


The LA Times video-taped five of the candidates for DA speaking on questions that are crucial for any potential LA D.A. to be able to answer coherently. In the videos posted on Wednesday, nearly to a person, the candidates’ answers seemed to indicate a horrifying cluelessness on realignment. On the issue of the death penalty, there’s mostly a lot of pandering and very little reasoned opinion.

Not cheering.

Watch the videos here and then read the LA Times editorial that takes the candidates to task for their inexcusable lack of willingness to say anything that might be actually thought through, fact-based and responsible.

Here’s a clip:

Voters should expect the six candidates for district attorney to have mastered the facts of realignment and to be able to present well-thought-out policies for re-creating the justice system in Los Angeles County and making the reforms stick.

But today, none of the candidates seems completely prepared to grapple with what to do next. Some repeat falsehoods as if they were gospel: Los Angeles County’s jails are overcrowded (false; they are at about half capacity). California’s recidivism rate is 70% (meaningless, without distinguishing between a new criminal offense that should land an offender back behind bars and a technical parole violation, such as failing to report to an agent in time). Realignment puts parolees on our streets unsupervised (a blatant falsehood). State prisoners are being released early under realignment (false). But it’s true that if prosecutors, the courts and the sheriff are not careful, they will release people whom they should keep. And it’s true that under realignment, more jail inmates (as opposed to prison inmates) may be unsupervised upon release.

Alan Jackson has two answers to realignment: repeal it (which is not going to happen, and Jackson knows it) and allow counties to send prisoners out of state instead of seeking alternative treatment and supervision for those who can respond to it. Carmen Trutanich repeats the old saw that “we cannot start crying, ‘The sky is falling.’ ” We know that, but what would he do as D.A. to make realignment work? “This is a terrible mistake,” Jackie Lacey offers somewhat wearily. “But it’s also an opportunity.” Very well, but how will she respond to that opportunity?


Did we mention that Governor Jerry Brown announced on Thursday that he would be supporting City Attorney Carmen Trutanich in the upcoming Los Angeles District Attorney’s race? Okay, consider it mentioned.


An initiative to modify California’s Three Strikes Law is headed for the November ballot with almost twice as many signatures as necessary. SF DA George Gascon (who is also the former Assistant Chief of the LAPD), and LA DA Steve Cooley, have both publicly endorsed the measure which would eliminate the mandatory 25 to life for non-violent and less grievous third strike felonies.

Sacramento Bee’s Torey Van Oot writes:

…Under the proposal, only offenders convicted of a “third strike” felony that is violent or serious would face a minimum sentence of 25 to life in prison. The measure, which is modeled after proposed legislation, would also allow some offenders currently behind bars for a “third strike” that was a minor crime to seek a re-sentencing.

Voters rejected a similar measure, Proposition 66, in 2004.

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, who has endorsed the new measure, said in a statement that the initiative “saves California taxpayers money and restores the original intent of the law,” which was approved by voters in 1994, “by focusing on truly dangerous criminals.” A fiscal analysis estimates the measure could reduce prison costs by up to $100 million a year in the future.

Tracy Kaplan for the San Jose Mercury News has a nicely informative piece on the newly ballot-ready initiative, in which she quotes Steve Cooley and others.


Isaac Ontiveros reports for the San Francisco Bay View. (EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s not entirely clear if the meeting is really an “emergency meeting,” or if the “emergency” part is a bit of hyperbole from the Bay View editors.) In any case, here’s the deal:

A little over a month after the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) released its “Security Threat Group Prevention, Identification and Management Strategy,” which proposes new gang validation and Security Housing Unit (SHU) step down procedures, the department has called a meeting with members of the mediation team advocating on behalf of SHU and Administrative Segregation (Ad-Seg or ASU) prisoners around the state as well as legislative aides in Sacramento….


Warren Olney and his producers have done an unusually good series of programs this week on different aspects of the LA Riots of 1992. You can listen here.


This is from the press statement:

At 9 a.m. Friday, April 27, 200 civic leaders will return to the First A.M.E., gathering at the FAME Renaissance building at 1968 West Adams Boulevard, to participate in a Day of Dialogue. In small groups, participants will discuss the causes and impacts of the 1992 upheaval, and they will assess what progress has been made and what challenges remain….

I know from talking to various community organizers that this is going to be a very large and interesting event that will be well worth your time if you can get over there.


This is from Thursday’s U.S. Attorney’s Office statement:

The former mayor of Upland pleaded guilty today [Thursday] to a federal bribery charge, admitting that he accepted a $5,000 payment in exchange for helping a business obtain a conditional use permit from the city.

John Victor Pomierski, 58, who resigned as mayor last year after he was named in a grand jury indictment, pleaded guilty this morning before United States District Judge Virginia A. Phillips. Pomierski becomes the third defendant to be convicted in relation to a corruption investigation in the city of Upland.

As a result of today’s guilty plea to the bribery charge, Pomierski faces a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison. Judge Phillips is scheduled to sentence Pomierski on August 6.

(We don’t usually report on Upland. But we thought that a lot of you might like to know that the feds are on a roll—since they’re also very busy with ever widening investigations closer to home.)

EDITOR’S NOTE: WitnessLA has linked before to the TED talk about justice and injustice by civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative.

But, it’s worth listening to again. (And again.)

Stevenson was the dinner speaker on the first night of the symposium I attended in New York, and the 31 experienced and sometimes jaded reporters in the room were utterly riveted


  • The death penalty serves one purpose, appropriate punishment. The warden who claims to have “34 years of law enforcement experience,” does not have “law enforcement experience.” He has worked in the prison system, I won’t take that away from him, but he has never been a true “law enforcement” officer. I have thirty-five years of “real” law enforcement experience in the mean streets of Los Angeles. Unlike the warden or the liberal criminal sympathizers, I have seen the results of raw and violent crime. I have seen first hand what the criminal animals of our civilized society have done to truly innocent people.

    To the readers who drink the Mike Farrell Kool-Aid, you have never attended an autopsy of an 18 year old girl kidnapped off the street, and tortured for hours by two animals, repeatedly raped, nipples pinched off and the like, all tape recorded for their pleasure and then finally an ice pick plunged into her ear canal as their way of a merciful execution. This was just a young woman walking down the street, minding her own business. She was just one of several victims of these two animals. Do these pukes deserve LWOP? Is that what you would want to see happen if it were your daughter? The death penalty is about punishment and justice.

    Ex-cons who have lead a life of crime, return to the streets as animals. They commit murder as a thrill, during a robbery because they want no witnesses. Imagine your child working in a grocery store has a sawed-off shot gun stuck in his face and the trigger is pulled. The suspects laugh as they leave with their hundred dollar haul. Do you think spending the rest of their life in prison as LWOP means anything to them? Not one single thought of it. The death penalty is about punishment and justice. And the racial numbers off? Give me a break, Blacks and Hispanics commit more violent crimes in consideration to their population, it is what it is? I would execute a White just as fast as any other individual. So don’t start that crap about racial equality or the lack of. It is what it is.

    The reason the death penalty costs millions is because of the liberal foot draggers. Yes, every person deserves an appropriate appeal, but not one that goes on for twenty years. An appeal where there is an abundance of evidence, video taped confessions, irrefutable eye witnesses, DNA and the like, should occur to make sure everything is in order. But the frivolous appeals on top of appeals is why California has an exploding death row population. All of this has mad a mockery of justice. Oh by the way, the victims and their families are left in the shadows.

    So I say to the liberals, when your children, family and friends happen to be the next victim of murder by a pack of animals, go to court during the penalty phase, bring a large picture of the victim as you knew them, then a couple of crime scene photos and a couple of autopsy photos, lay them all out for the poor defendant, the jury, the court and the public to see and then tell the judge how you forgive the defendant(s) for their crime. Tell all of them you are anti-death penalty and beg the jury not to give the defendant(s) the death penalty because it would be wrong. Beg them to do the right thing and spare a life. Then think about your loved one on Christmas, their birthday and those special times and think about how much you miss them, how much they suffered, think about your child’s last moments of life. Then think about the animal who did all of this, sitting around in open cells, listening to music, watching TV, living life on your dime and perhaps even bragging “how the bitch was begging for mercy and crying for her bitch ass momma, just before I wasted her. I couldn’t stand the bitch whining anymore,” and then a round of laughs from the other inmates.

    I for one, would pay to juice these animals, nice and slow like while showing them photos of the victims. I would love to tell these animals, “Adios, asshole. Hell is waiting for you.”

  • If the death penalty is alarmingly disproportionately applied to people of color, particularly African Americans, why doesn’t our 1/2-black President and black Attorney General of the United States do something about it? How about a class action lawsuit?

  • I wonder if all these people who are against the death penalty because “it’s wrong to take a human life” would kill somebody who was attempting to kill THEIR child.
    Any parent who wouldn’t kill to protect the life of their child has no business being a parent. That is the first law of nature.
    These people just want to be able to claim the mantle of being on a different plain than the rest of us when it’s comes to humanitarianism. They think that makes them more enlightened than the rest of us.
    It’s about their ego. Until it happens to one of their loved ones.

  • I hope the murderer of your brother in law doesn’t murder another inmate who’s in for a drug beef. The murdered inmate’s family would probably feel different than your wife.
    Maybe not. Probably so.

  • It also lets predatory types know they’ll be a blind asshole if they cross the line.-WT

  • Randy Randy Randy,
    Is that the best you can do? You really can’t think of a more intellectual argument than that?

    Why didn’t you just ask the POTUS how many lives have to be lost in the war?

    Or better yet, why not ask sopmebody you disagree with “When did you stop beating your wife”.

    Come on man. You’re better than that.

  • The arguments in support of the ballot measure to abolish the death penalty are exaggerated at best and, in most cases, misleading and erroneous. The Act would only make our prisons less safe for both other prisoners and prison officials, significantly increase the costs to taxpayers due to life-time medical costs, the increased security required to coerce former death-row inmates to work, etc. The amount “saved” in order to help fund law enforcement is negligible and only for a short period of time. Bottom line, the “SAFE” Act is an attempt by those who are responsible for the high costs and lack of executions to now persuade voters to abandon it on those ground. Obviously, these arguments would disappear if the death penalty was carried forth in accordance with the law. Get the facts at and supporting evidence at

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