California Debates Death-Row Clearance Total

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Advocates and opponents of the death penalty in California are disputing how many death-row inmates have been exonerated. The debate is typical of the back-and-forth in places that are arguing over whether a moratorium on excutions is warranted.

The Associated Press reports that California’s death-penalty foes say as many as five death-row inmates in the state have been exonerated. They say that is similar to the numbers in Illinois, where Gov. George Ryan commuted all death sentences before he left office in January.

Capital punishment opponents marched yesterday at the state capitol in Sacramento, but they were unable to agree on which of the eventually freed convicts should be considered exonerated.

Democratic Gov. Gray Davis and state and county prosecutors argue that no formerly condemned California inmate has been exonerated, and that none of the 617 inmates now awaiting execution has demonstrated actual innocence. “When folks are saying someone’s innocent, that means they have no involvement in the crime at all,” said David LaBahn of the California District Attorneys Association. Opponents use legal innocence as their benchmark, but they disagree who qualifies under that broader definition.


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