California carried out its last two executions in 2005 and 2006, administering lethal drugs to killers Stanley “Tookie” Williams and Clarence Ray Allen. The executions ended more than two decades of taxpayer-funded legal costs for challenging their convictions and death sentences. Records obtained by the Bay Area News Group shows the final price tag for all the state and federal appeals for Allen, the oldest death row inmate California ever executed, was more than $761,000. Appeals for Crips street gang co-founder Williams, who gained international notoriety on death row, cost the public nearly $1 million.
The debate over such costs is at the heart of California’s first political campaign since 1978 to repeal the death penalty, clear the state’s bulging death row, and replace capital punishment with life in prison without the possibility of parole. The so-called SAFE California Act is on the November ballot. Death penalty opponents, who in the past have argued executions are unfair and immoral, are now urging voters to think with their wallets, saying the ultimate punishment has become too expensive for deficit-ridden California. Death penalty supporters say overall cost estimates are inflated and no reason to do away with executing the state’s most heinous killers. A San Jose Mercury-News review of the Williams and Allen cases — both considered typical for California’s death row — show the combined state and federal legal costs to see the state’s 724 condemned inmates through the nation’s most sluggish death penalty system would likely exceed $700 million. That does not include the expense for the attorney general’s office to defend those death sentences in the courts.