California juries have sentenced more than 900 murderers to death in 40 years. The state has executed 13 of them. The death penalty in California is getting fresh attention, says the Sacramento Bee. A federal appeals court heard arguments last month on whether the state’s death penalty is unconstitutional, given the length of time it takes for criminals to be executed. Another effort to repeal the death penalty via ballot initiative is under way. With no executions in sight and a few California counties continuing to condemn several convicts each year, the state’s death row is running out of room. About 750 inmates live there, one-fourth of the nation’s condemned prisoners.
While no execution has taken place in California since 2006, inmate deaths are becoming common, effectively turning many death sentences into life without parole. Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1977, about 70 of the state’s condemned inmates have died of natural causes. Another 24 killed themselves. (In the last 10 years, the suicide rate on California’s death row was 15 times higher than the statewide rate.) About half a dozen condemned inmates died from other causes like drug overdoses and murder.