Murderer Douglas Stankewitz, who has spent more than three decades on death row, isn’t pinning his hopes of survival on a referendum next month to abolish the California death penalty, Reuters reports. He knows that even if voters reject it, he may never be executed. “They can’t kill me because the system is messed up so bad,” Stankewitz, the longest-serving death row inmate, told Reuters at San Quentin State Prison. “The death penalty is a joke.” Stankewitz, 54, who arrived on death row at age 20 for killing a woman during a drug- and alcohol-fueled carjacking, is one of 726 on the state’s death row. The state hosts nearly a quarter of the nation’s condemned prisoners but has executed none in six years.
Public opinion in many states has been shifting away from the death penalty, with five states abolishing it in the past decade. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia do not allow the death penalty. In California, advocates of repealing the death penalty are basing their campaign not so much on moral grounds, but on the question of cost. They say the system, with mandated appeals that can take decades, costs so much that the financially troubled state could save hundreds of millions of dollars by instead jailing the worst killers for life. Polls show the referendum faces an uphill fight.