By MICHAEL RAMOS, San Bernardino County District Attorney
As District Attorney of San Bernardino County, my mission is to not only uphold the criminal justice system and represent the people of our county, but to also make victims' rights a priority. Just recently, there have been exaggerated efforts to repeal the death penalty in the State of California, and I refuse to sit back and allow the very people who elected me to this office to be manipulated by a blatantly deceptive campaign.
This November, voters will have the chance to vote on a ballot initiative known as the SAFE California Act, or Proposition 34, which seeks to replace California's death penalty with a life sentence with no chance of parole as the maximum punishment for murder. The citizens of California have already voted for and approved the death penalty. If this initiative passes, more than 700 death row inmates will be given life without the possibility of parole, as well as lifetime housing and medical care.
Let me be very clear: I oppose this initiative, as do sheriffs, police chiefs, prosecutors, community leaders and crime victims from all across the state.
First of all, the name itself is as misleading as the arguments posed by Prop 34 supporters. It's an insult to voters as well as victims and their families, because those who support the initiative want voters to believe that in some way we will all be "safer" as a result of passing this initiative. Nothing could be further from the truth. Backers of Prop 34 also are hoping to gain advantage by those voters who might not take the time to research the language or implications prior to voting. There is absolutely nothing "safe" about the SAFE California Act.
There are currently 37 inmates who were convicted of crimes in San Bernardino County currently awaiting execution. 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 and tied around her head and face, and the two males had their necks slashed open. Or what about the appalling murder of Rialto Police Sgt. Gary Wolfey, who was gunned down in cold blood by Dennis Mayfield? Or Brett Pensinger, who sexually abused and beat to death a 5-month-old child?
The list of criminals convicted and sentenced to death by juries of law-abiding citizens goes on: Across the state, we are talking about 135 sexual assault murderers, 126 torture murderers, 135 child murderers, and 41 individuals who killed police officers. These 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.
The Yes on 34 Campaign has asserted that the current system is broken and expensive. Sadly for the victims' family members, it does take far too long for convicted criminals to move through the justice system, but the very people who are now crying foul, are the same individuals who have bogged down the system for years with frivolous appeals. We don't need to repeal the death penalty—we need to enact measures that would mend the current system and prevent countless motions and appeals by the ACLU and its supporters from clogging up our justice system.
Take Kevin Cooper, for example, one of San Bernardino County’s most notorious killers convicted nearly 30 years ago of four gruesome murders in Chino Hills, including two children. Cooper has been sitting on Death Row for 27 years. He has appealed 10 times each to the California Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court. The current appellate process needs to be streamlined in order to prevent these all too familiar delay tactics. Rather than provide brutal killers with lifetime housing and healthcare, let’s fix the current system and carry out what the voters approved years ago.
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 for those who commit the worst imaginable crimes. I have nothing but respect for the entire process, and just as much respect for our victims and their families who didn’t have a choice. You want to save money, let’s start carrying out the will of the voters and putting the prisoners on death row to death. Preserve the death penalty. Protect California. Vote NO on Prop 34.