Why Ex-Advocates of California Death Penalty Seek to Repeal It


A successful campaign to expand California’s death penalty in 1978 was run by Ron Briggs, today a farmer and Republican member of the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors. It was championed by his father, state Sen. John Briggs. It was written by Donald Heller, a former New York City prosecutor. This year, reports the New York Times, Ron Briggs and Heller are advocating an initiative to repeal the death penalty and replace it with mandatory life without parole.

Partly, they changed their minds for moral reasons. They also have a political argument to make. “At the time, we were of the impression that it would do swift justice, that it would get the criminals and murderers through the system quickly and apply them the death penalty,” says Briggs, 54. “But it's not working. My dad always says, admit the obvious. We started with 300 on death row when we did Prop 7, and we now have over 720 — and it's cost us $4 billion. I tell my Republican friends, 'Close your eyes for a moment. If there was a state program that was costing $185 million a year and only gave the money to lawyers and criminals, what would you do with it?' “

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