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Don’t abolish death penalty, make the system work: Michael A. Ramos

Published: San Bernardino Sun, Oct. 23, 2016

Historically, the voters of California have continually voted to keep the death penalty as the ultimate sentence for those who commit the most heinous crimes. However, every election cycle there is a constant push by a few Hollywood actors, out-of-state billionaires with personal agendas and the ACLU to abolish the death penalty—despite the will of the People.

In 2012, opponents of the death penalty spent over $7 million dollars pushing a deceptive ballot measure called the “SAFE California Act,” which would abolish the death penalty and somehow make California “safer.” California voters were smart enough to see through the smoke screen. The proposition failed, and once again voters made their will clear.

Next month, voters will once again be asked to make an important decision about the death penalty. There are two propositions on the ballot.

A Yes vote for Proposition 62, means you want to abolish California's death penalty altogether and instead give killers already on death row, and future killers, a life sentence.

A Yes vote for Proposition 66, means you want to fix California’s death penalty process by eliminating legal and procedural delay tactics while still assuring due process protections for those sentenced to death and protecting victims’ rights.

As district attorney, the decision to pursue the death penalty is perhaps the single most difficult decision that I have to make. To condemn someone to death is the ultimate punishment, and it is reserved solely for those who commit the worst imaginable crimes.

Take confessed triple-killer Jimmy Dale Kelley. When deputies arrived at the scene, they found three victims with multiple gunshot wounds to the head and body. The female victim had electrical wiring wrapped around her head and face, and the two males had their necks slashed open.

Or what about the murder of Rialto Police Sgt. Gary Wolfey who was murdered by convicted felon Dennis Mayfield? Or Brett Pensinger, who kidnapped and beat to death a 5-month-old child? The young girl’s body was later found mangled, sliced up with disfiguring injuries and a crushing blow to the skull that occurred before death. It was noted that her uterus had been removed through a long incision from the ribs to the groin area.

The list of hardcore criminals convicted and sentenced to death by juries of law-abiding citizens goes on, and sadly, the list of victims is even longer—more than 1,000 victims have suffered at the hands of these monsters, including 226 children and 43 police officers. Of those victims, 235 were raped and 90 were tortured.

Instead of trying to fix the problem, opponents want to abolish the death penalty altogether. There are common sense reforms that would improve the system while still giving the accused their constitutionally guaranteed right to a fair trial. Despite the rhetoric and deceptive messages being spread by the Yes on Proposition 62 campaign, the death penalty system in California can be fixed.

This is not fiction, not part of a Hollywood script. These are common sense reforms supported by multiple law enforcement groups, elected officials and victim advocates.

A YES vote for Proposition 66 will do the following: Reform the Appeals Process, Reform Death Row Housing and Restitution, and Reform the Appointment of Appellate Counsel and Agency Oversight.

Reform the Appeals Process: Proposition 66 initiative will move the first appeal to the California Court of Appeal and then heard by the California Supreme Court if necessary. The California Supreme Court is overloaded with death penalty appeals, causing lengthy and unnecessary delays.Spreading these death penalty appeals cases among the Courts of Appeal (like the federal courts do) will allow the defendant’s claims to be heard sooner.

Reform Death Row Housing and Restitution: Currently, death row inmates spend their days in a single person cell with their own television, radio and other luxury items, they are not required to work or pay restitution for their crimes, and they are granted many privileges that other inmates do not receive. According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, Proposition 66 will eliminate single-cell housing of death row inmates and save tens of millions of dollars every year. Rather than provide brutal killers with lifetime housing and healthcare, let’s fix the current system.

Reform the Appointment of Appellate Counsel and Agency Oversight: Proposition 66 will reform the existing inefficient appeals process for death penalty cases and ensure fairness for both defendants and victims. Capital defendants wait 5 years or more for appointments of their appellate lawyer. By providing prompt appointment of appellate attorneys, the defendant’s claims will be heard sooner when the evidence is still fresh and witnesses are still available. One of the main reasons for the delay is that the state agency that is supposed to expedite secondary review of death penalty cases is operating without any effective oversight, causing long delays and wasting taxpayer dollars. Proposition 66 will give the California Supreme Court oversight of this state agency and be tasked with ensuring accountability and due process.

Inmates sitting on death row are the worst of the worst criminals, and by seeking the death penalty, it is important to remember that it is not a reflection of our brutality, but rather an expression of our disdain for their brutal actions.

I have nothing but respect for the entire process, and just as much respect for our victims and their family members who didn’t have a choice. Sadly, for the victims’ family members, it does take far too long for convicted criminals to move through the system, but the very people who are crying foul every election cycle, are the same individuals who have bogged down the system for years with frivolous appeals.

As district attorney, I am urging a NO vote on Proposition 62 and a YES vote on Proposition 66. Doing so means that you want to fix the death penalty and ensure that the court sentences of 743 serial killers, cop killers, child rapists and rape/torture murderers are carried out.

You want to save money, let’s start carrying out the will of the voters and put prisoners on death row to death. Our victims and their families deserve the justice that was handed down in a court of law.

Mike Ramos
San Bernardino County District Attorney

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It is the mission of the San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office to represent the interests of the people in the criminal justice system, as mandated by California State law. The San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office serves the residents of San Bernardino County by: seeking the truth, protecting the innocent; holding the guilty accountable; preserving the dignity of victims and their families; and, ensuring that justice is done while always maintaining the highest ethical standards.

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