Why I am supporting Proposition 34
In January 2001, my only daughter, Laura, was murdered by a person with severe mental illness.
Laura was shot four times at point blank range at the Nevada County Behavioral Health Clinic. When the rampage at the clinic and a nearby restaurant ended, three people lay dead, three were severely injured, a community was shaken, and the world was diminished by the loss of an incredible young woman.
Laura, bright and beautiful at age 19, had extraordinary capability, kindness and spirit. She was an outstanding student and leader.
She wanted to make a positive difference in the world. Laura had unlimited possibilities and the brightest of prospects.
My husband and I had always been opposed to the death penalty. Of course, our opposition had been purely theoretical. We never thought that we would personally be touched by violent crime.
After Laura was killed, we leaned on our long-held beliefs and remained opposed to the death penalty. The issue had become very personal for us, and as we learned more about the death penalty, our opposition became a deeper conviction.
I have learned that the criminal justice system can make mistakes, and there will always be a risk of executing an innocent person. As many as 141 innocent people have been wrongly sentenced to death in our country. Some have even been executed.
Hundreds of innocent people have been convicted of serious crimes in California; three were sentenced to death. I had the profound experience of meeting a man who had been wrongfully accused.
He had done nothing wrong, but tragically, 25 years of his life were spent in prison. He was eventually released. An execution, of course, can never be reversed.
I have learned that the death penalty is neither swift nor certain. Most inmates on death row die of old age. The lengthy process of trials, appeals and anticipated execution keeps surviving family members in limbo. I know from experience that each court event is traumatic.
I have learned that the death penalty costs far more than life without parole. I can think of many better uses for this money — such as more funding for schools and victim services or violence prevention, including treatment for mental illness and more resources for law enforcement.
As the mother of a murdered daughter, I consider myself tough on violent crime. I want criminals to be held accountable for their actions. I want dangerous murderers to be incarcerated and separated from society forever so that they no longer can do harm. Life in prison with absolutely no chance of parole accomplishes this.
I know firsthand that families of murdered victims want legal finality. The death penalty in California is a false promise that traps survivors into decades of legal proceedings and delays. Executions rarely happen.
The survivors have no control over the process. The death penalty places attention on the murderer. I always wanted to focus on Laura. The man who killed Laura will be incarcerated for the rest of his life. I have finality. I can move on.
Prop. 34 replaces the death penalty with life in prison with absolutely no chance of parole. The official analysis of Prop. 34 found that California would save $130 million each year.
Prop. 34 also directs $100 million of these savings to law enforcement for solving more rapes and murders. A shocking 46 percent of murders and 56 percent of reported rapes go unsolved in California each year. Finding criminals before they do more harm would truly protect us.
Norm Stamper, a former Seattle Police chief and a 28-year veteran of the San Diego Police Department, said it best. He wrote, “Life in prison, with no prayer of parole, should be the toughest sentence on our books. It ensures that the guilty never get out, keeps us from ever executing an innocent person and allows us to spend the millions of dollars wasted each year on the death penalty on programs that will actually make us safer.”
By all accounts, the death penalty system in California is broken. Join me in replacing it with justice that works for everyone. Please vote for Prop. 34.
Amanda Wilcox lives in Penn Valley.
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