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California’s Death Penalty Ruled Unconstitutional


  • NEW: If appealed, no executions can take place — even if death penalty moratorium ends
  • California attorney general’s office says she is reviewing the decision
  • Ernest D. Jones was sentenced to death for raping, killing girlfriend’s mother
  • A federal judge said the lengthy period he has waited since sentencing violates the Constitution

(CNN) — In ruling California’s death penalty unconstitutional, a federal judge said Wednesday the system is so broken it unfairly leaves inmates with uncertain fates — often for decades.
In his decision, Santa Ana-based Judge Cormac J. Carney vacated the 1995 death sentence of Ernest D. Jones, who petitioned the court to determine whether his death sentence was valid.
Carney wrote: “Allowing this system to continue to threaten Mr. Jones with the slight possibility of death, almost a generation after he was first sentenced, violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. ”

A federal judge in California vacated the 1995 death sentence of Ernest D. Jones on Wednesday.

The decision will certainly be appealed, said CNN legal analysts Jeffrey Toobin and Mark Geragos. Toobin said no executions could proceed in California while the decision stands.

A federal judge in California vacated the 1995 death sentence of Ernest D. Jones on Wednesday.
A federal judge in California vacated the 1995 death sentence of Ernest D. Jones on Wednesday.

In California, there are 748 people on death row, the most of any state.

No executions have been carried out since California put a moratorium on the death penalty in 2006. Four years later, the state sought to execute a man who raped and murdered a 15-year-old girl, but it was blocked by state and federal courts over concerns about lethal injections.

In Wednesday’s ruling, Carney called the administration of the state’s death penalty system “dysfunctional.”

“In California, the execution of a death sentence is so infrequent, and the delays preceding it so extraordinary, that the death penalty is deprived of any deterrent or retributive effect it might once have had,” he wrote. “Such an outcome is antithetical to any civilized notion of just punishment.”

Since 1978, more than 900 people in the state have been sentenced to death row, where inmates spend 23 hours alone in their cells. Of those people only 13 have been executed; 94 have died of other causes. Carney said about 40% have been on death row longer than 19 years.

“California’s death penalty system is so plagued by inordinate and unpredictable delay that the death sentence is actually carried out against only a trivial few of those sentenced to death,” Carney said, noting that it takes an average of three to five years for a death row inmate just to get an court-appointed attorney for an appeal.

The judge noted 285 of the people on death row have been there longer than Jones.

“There clearly was a crisis coming. A lot of people have recognized there is a problem with hundreds of people of death row and hardly any executions,” Toobin said. He noted the situation in California is so unusual it wouldn’t affect death penalty cases in other states.

California’s most recent execution was on January 17, 2006, according to the website for the state’s Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation.

Clarence Ray Allen, 76, spent 23 years and one month on death row before dying from a lethal injection. He was convicted of orchestrating a triple murder from prison in 1982.

Michael Laurence, executive director of the Habeas Corpus Resource Center and Jones’s lead attorney, said he was glad that a federal judge reaffirmed what a state commission found in 2008.

“There is no rational explanation, much less any moral or societal justification, for which people are ultimately executed,” Laurence said in a written statement. “The execution of Mr. Jones, and the others like him whose meritorious legal claims have gone unheard for decades, serves no valid state interest.”

The executive director of Death Penalty Focus said the law in California needs to be changed.

“Justice requires that we end this charade once and for all,” said Matt Cherry. “It’s time to replace California’s broken death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole. That’s the best way to ensure that convicted killers remain behind bars until they die, without wasting tens of millions of tax dollars every year on needless appeals.”

Jones’ case is expected to be appealed by prosecutors to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, said.
Nick Pacilio, a spokesman for state Attorney General Kamala Harris, said her office is reviewing the decision.

Death penalty facts that may surprise you

Jones’ case

Jones was tried and received his death sentence at a time when the attention of the world was focused on another case unfolding on the same floor of Los Angeles downtown courthouse — the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Simpson, who had assembled a legal “dream team,” was acquitted; Jones was represented by a public defender.

Jones was convicted and sentenced to death for raping and killing his girlfriend’s mother, Julia Miller, a 50-year-old defense industry accountant.

During the trial, Jones was portrayed as the product of a broken home with alcoholic parents. An aunt described his childhood as “a living hell.” He grew up in poverty, and his parents used drugs in front of the children and battled violently. His mother beat him and his siblings. He developed a drug habit of his own, which included marijuana and cocaine.

He told witnesses that he had heard voices and experienced flashbacks during the year before the slaying. He said the victim confronted him over his treatment of her daughter and pointed a rifle at him, which caused him to flash back to violent incidents in his childhood, according to the state Supreme Court opinion affirming his conviction.

The court record indicates that Jones had spent several years in prison for raping the mother of a previous girlfriend.

The California Supreme Court in 2003 upheld the conviction of Jones on first-degree murder and rape charges.

I was 17, on death row–and innocent

5 ways to improve the U.S. death penalty

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Close the Death Chamber — Candlelight Vigil scheduled for Monday, February 3, 2014

Katrina’s Dream

Liberty & Justice for All

Dedicated to the full inclusion of women in society
Katrina’s Dream Liberty & Justice for All Dedicated to the full inclusion of women in society On January 2, 1942 at the beginning of a ghastly war, this picture was on the front page of newspapers  around the world with the headline: Little Girl Meets Roosevelt & Churchill. However, Katrina was  telling everyone, “I met Mrs. Roosevelt on my birthday: Mrs. Roosevelt is just behind Churchill.
Katrina’s Dream
Liberty & Justice for All
Dedicated to the full inclusion of women in society
On January 2, 1942 at the beginning of a ghastly war, this picture was on the front page of newspapers
around the world with the headline: Little Girl Meets Roosevelt & Churchill. However, Katrina was
telling everyone, “I met Mrs. Roosevelt on my birthday: Mrs. Roosevelt is just behind Churchill.


What: Close the Death Chamber – Candlelight Vigil
When: 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., Monday, February 3, 2014
Where: West Gate @ San Quentin Prison, Marin County.
Costs: None.
Why: Abolish the Death Penalty
Contact: Ms. Helene deBoissiere-Swanson, Founder – Katrina’s Dream

Katrina’s Dream will be holding a Candlelight Vigil and Community Assembly on February 3, at
4:30 pm. We will meet in front the West Gate of San Quentin Prison. People of all faiths will be
gathering, calling on Governor Jerry Brown and our Legislators to Close the Death Chamber at San
Quentin Prison and abolish the Death Penalty here in California.

A small group from Katrina’s Dream, have been holding a monthly candlelight vigil every first
Monday since February 7, 2011. Unfortunately, the lead organizer passed away unexpected. Please


We are bringing back the vigils and need your support, presence and prayers more than ever. We are asking that you share the news of this vigil with all your friends and family. We hope that people of State of California will stand up and say, “NO MORE KILLINGS – NOT IN MY NAME”. The event is co-sponsored by the ACLU of Northern California’s Marin County Chapter and Katrina’s Dream

To attend in spirit please visit

The event can also be seen by those who are not on Facebook at:

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California Abandons Three-Drug Protocol in Executions

On June 10, California announced it would no longer try to defend its current lethal injection protocol. In May, a court ruling invalidated the state’s three-drug lethal injection protocol because state officials failed to follow administrative rules in adopting the protocol.

Governor Jerry Brown and other officials will instead proceed with developing a single-drug lethal injection protocol similar to those adopted recently in states like Ohio, Arizona, and Washington.

California has the largest death row in the United States with more than 725 inmates. The state has not carried out an execution since 2006 because of legal problems with its three-drug lethal injection protocol.

Executions are unlikely to resume immediately since it could take a year or longer to approve the new single-drug protocol. Even if the single-drug method is approved, the state could face the additional challenge of securing supplies of the drugs because manufacturers object to their use in lethal injections.

Source: Death Penalty Focus

Related news:

Gov. Brown Drops Appeal of 3-Drug Execution, CBS Los Angeles

California Considers Using One Drug in Executions, San Francisco Chronicle

See attached CPF letter to Governor Brown regarding lethal injection protocol

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Prayer Service and Vigil Held in San Jose for Victims of Violent Crime

In response to a wave of violent crime in the San Jose area over 100 persons attended a prayer service and vigil at the Rotunda at the San Jose City Hall on June 6th. The event was organized by Kathleen Flynn, herself a family member of a victim of homicide. The audience was addressed by the acting police Chief Esquival, Mayor Reed and a number of local clergy.

Pictured below from left: Victims’ families; Elsa Lopez with a photo of her son who was murdered on Feburary 13; Mayor Reed addresses crowd.

prayersvc6613vicfam prayersvc6613 prayersvc6613reed

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Court of Appeals affirms new lethal injection protocol needed before any executions occur

The California Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment finding the state’s lethal injection regulations to violate the Administrative Procedure Act. This means that no executions can occur in California until the state developments a brand new lethal injection protocol. They must start from scratch.

The opinion is attached for those who are interested. (pdf)

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More Prefer Life Term to the Death Penalty

The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) just released their newest poll.

Here are the findings on the death penalty, from their press release, “More Prefer Life Term to Death Penalty”:

The survey did not include specific questions about Proposition 34, which would repeal the death penalty, or Proposition 36, which would revise the three strikes law, but did ask about some of the concepts behind them.

Asked about the penalty for first-degree murder, 50 percent of likely voters say life imprisonment with absolutely no possibility of parole should be the penalty, while 42 percent say it should be death.

Results were similar in September 2011 (50% life imprisonment, 45% death penalty). Among likely voters, most Democrats (66%) prefer life imprisonment and most Republicans (58%) prefer the death penalty, while independents are split (42% life).

The full poll (pdf) is available here.

In other words, we are winning, but we have a lot more work to do to solidify our victory!

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Jeanne Woodford of Death Penalty Focus Speaks About Her Views and Experiences with the Death Penalty

woodfordinterviewRev. Michael Carson, Pastor of Queen of Apostles Church in the Diocese of San Jose and member of the State Board of California People of Faith Working Against the Death Penalty, recently interviewed Jeanne Woodford, executive director of Death Penalty Focus (DPF). DPF is the largest organization working to abolish the death penalty in California.

Woodford previously served as the Undersecretary and Director of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and Warden of San Quentin State Prison, where she oversaw four executions. Her journey from one responsible for executions at San Quentin State Prison to running one of the largest death penalty abolition organizations in the Country is a remarkable one. Recently I had a chance to talk to her about this issue and about her work to end the death penalty in California.

Question. In what ways has your Roman Catholic faith background influenced you on the stance you have taken on the death penalty?

Answer. My Roman Catholic upbringing had great influence on my thinking about the death penalty. I was taught to have respect for God’s creation.

Question. What were the processes that lead you to be against the death penalty? Have you always been against the death penalty? Was it the time you spent as Warden at San Quentin State Penitentiary?

AnswerI have always been morally against the death penalty but I was not passionate about my position. In 1978, I started working at San Quentin as a Correctional Officer. At the time, San Quentin only had a few people on death row. I watched death row grow to where it is today, 725 people condemned to death. I feel like I grew up with the death penalty. I have seen it from all points of view. I know how costly and ineffective the death penalty is. We have spent 4 billion dollars on the death penalty since 1978 and have carried out 13 executions.

I also know as a person with more than thirty years’ experience in law enforcement that the death penalty is not a deterrent. For a punishment to be a deterrent it must be swift and certain, and the death penalty is neither.

I carried out 4 executions. At the end of every execution a member of my staff would ask, “Is the world safer because of what we did tonight?” We knew the answer was no.

I am now passionate about replacing the death penalty and I also know a lot more about it. I learned, for example, that the death penalty costs much more than life without parole. That is a surprise to many people. It also became very clear to me that the death penalty has a real impact on our personal safety — and it’s not good — because we have less money for effective violence prevention and crime solving. By replacing the death penalty with life without parole, our resources will go to solving the 46 percent of homicides and the 56 percent of reported rapes that go unsolved each year in this state.

The study of criminal justice is a science and we know from our study of this science that the best way to prevent crime is to solve it. We must spend our criminal justice dollars on policies that truly make our communities, our neighborhoods and our children safer.

Question. What would you say to victims’ family members of violent crime who support the death penalty?

Answer. I would never presume that I have the right to tell the victim’s family member how to think about the death penalty. They have experienced unspeakable tragedy that no person should have to go through. I listen to the family members. The SAFE California campaign, which will replace the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole, has many vocal supporters who have suffered terrible losses.

One of the reasons they support SAFE California is that they see it gives aid to victims and demands accountability from the guilty. Currently, death row inmates are not allowed to work in prison. With SAFE California, inmates will be sentenced to life without possibility of parole, a punishment which requires work in prison and payment to the Victim Compensation Fund.

Over 700 victim family members belong to California Crime Victims for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. Many of these members initially thought they wanted the death penalty for the person who committed the crime against their loved one but later came to realize that it was a hollow promise. The years of appeals, the years of trials and retrials, autopsy photos, re-enactments, and the attention the individual who committed the crime received in the media at every phase was not worth a sentence of death which is rarely carried out. Others came to realize that the quest for retribution harmed them even more and decided that the most important outcome was for the person who harmed their love one to be held accountable with an appropriate sentence that would bring legal finality and allow the family to begin the healing process.

QuestionWhat reaction have you received from your colleagues in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation from your advocacy work on this issue?

Answer. Many of my former colleagues are very supportive of my work. Not everyone who works in the criminal justice field believes in the death penalty. In fact, it is my experience that a large number of staff who work at San Quentin oppose the death penalty. We now have over 100 current and former criminal justice professionals who have signed our law enforcement letter opposing the death penalty.

Question. When the death penalty is removed from California, how would you like to see the savings spent?

Answer. One really important part of the SAFE California initiative is that it sets up the SAFE California Fund — a $30 million a year infusion of funds for law enforcement to focus on open rape and murder cases. Many people don’t realize that nearly half of all murders in California go unsolved in an average year, or that a little more than half of reported rapes also remain open. We need to take action and it’s worth noting that there are more unsolved rape and murder cases in majority Africa-American and Latino neighborhoods. That’s just not right. All victims deserve justice. So I’m very proud to be a proponent for the SAFE California Act because I believe that the DNA analysis, fingerprint testing, and witness relocation tools the SAFE CA Fund will cover will make a real difference for our families and our personal safety.

When the death penalty is replaced with a sentence of life without possibility of parole, a portion of the money saved will go into the SAFE California Fund for solving the 46 percent of homicides and the 56 percent of reported rapes that go unsolved each year across our state. Also, by sentencing inmates to life in prison without the possibility of parole, inmates will be required to work and pay money to the victim compensation fund, which provides services to victims. Services like counseling and even financial assistance to defray funeral costs are provided to victims of trauma. The remainder of the money will go into the general fund to improve California’s budget, hopefully saving programs that prevent crime such as education, violence prevention programs, and services to crime victims.

Question. Why should Roman Catholics be concerned about this issue?

Answer. As recently as November 2011, Pope Benedict XVI expressed his support for current efforts underway that would eliminate the death penalty, because it is against Catholic teachings. The Catholic Bishops of California also endorsed the SAFE California campaign to replace the death penalty. In a statement they said that: “Justice requires proportionate and effective means in the protection of society. As citizens, we find the use of the death penalty unnecessary, impractical and expensive.” I am in total agreement. Roman Catholics are also affected by the death penalty in ways that they might not be aware of. Law enforcement budgets are being cut and we do not have the resources to keep our communities safe. The death penalty costs an average of $184 million more per year than life in prison without the possibility of parole, and yet it continues to be an ineffective system that we fund instead of our schools and enrichment programs.

Catholics also understand the very grave risk of executing an innocent person. To date, 140 people have been freed from death rows across the country. Even in a system as good as ours, mistakes happen. With the death penalty, there’s no correcting those mistakes.

Question. How would you advise Roman Catholics to get involved on this issue?

Answer. Roman Catholics everywhere can get involved in this issue by raising awareness and holding educational events to inform the public about the death penalty. In California, Roman Catholics can get their church to formally endorse the SAFE California Campaign, they can hold educational events, and become volunteers for the campaign. For more information on how to get involved, visit

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California Bishops Support Life and Family Initiatives

Measures Will Require Parental Notification and End the Use of the Death Penalty

Due to the convergence of two initiatives whose sponsors are seeking their placement on California’s November 2012 ballot, we Catholic bishops have been presented a unique teaching moment on life and family.

As Catholics, we believe and teach that we bear the image of God. We come to life as the result of humanity’s collaboration in God’s creative work. Ordinarily, each child is the result of the loving union of a man and woman who have formed a family. The family then cradles the newborn, raises up the child and guides the young person’s development to adulthood. As citizens, we believe that government serves best when it supports families in their irreplaceable task of nurturing the next generation.

We therefore wish to express our support for the Parental Notification Initiative, which would require a young girl aged 12-17 to include her parents in a decision to secure an abortion. Because current law allows secrecy for “confidential medical services” a young girl could have multiple abortions—at state expense—without her parents’ knowledge. Not only are her parents still responsible for her medical and emotional needs if she suffers complications from the abortion, but current policy denies them accurate information as to how best to care for her. The relationship between that girl and her parents will be forever altered because of her secret.

As Catholics we hold human life as sacred. In the exercise of justice, this principle must prevail in the manner we treat one another, even for those who have done grave harm. Justice requires proportionate and effective means in the protection of society. As citizens, we find the use of the death penalty unnecessary, impractical and expensive.

Therefore, we also offer our support for the second of the initiatives— labeled SAFE California by its sponsors—which would offer Savings, Accountability and Full Enforcement by replacing the expensive death penalty for a capital offense with a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. We have long held that the use of the death penalty is no longer necessary to protect the community.

These two initiatives have appeared at the same time on the political landscape and bring into sharp focus important moral issues, namely our society’s treatment of nascent life, family life and even a sinful or errant life. In keeping with our fundamental principles, we believe that social policy should respect and support the role of parents in caring for their children. Justice should uphold human dignity as it protects the community.

For these reasons, we, the Catholic bishops of California, support both initiatives as responsible efforts to bring common sense, compassion and prudent justice into California’s public policy.

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Update on Case of David Raley

On August 10, 2011, the California Supreme Court directed the Santa Clara County Superior Court to hold a hearing to consider the evidence that David is mentally retarded. If the court finds him to be retarded, he would be resentenced to life without parole. The case has not yet been assigned to a superior court judge, and the schedule for the proceedings in the superior court has not yet been set. There will be many procedural steps before the case will be ready for a hearing. The case will be decided by a judge alone, without a jury. Lawyers in the San Francisco office of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, a large international law firm, have taken on David’s case pro bono.

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Update on Lethal Injection

Attorneys trying to prevent the cruelty of a botched execution are challenging states’ efforts to conduct experiments on their clients with new execution drugs.

The pretense of lethal injection as a peaceful and painless way to execute prisoners is unraveling, and this may change the face of the death penalty in the United States.

In September 2009, the state of Ohio tried to execute Romell Broom. The execution team, with Broom’s cooperation and even assistance, poked and prodded him with needles for more than two hours but was unable to find a usable vein. It wasn’t the first bungled lethal injection in Ohio, but it was the first to end with the inmate still alive.

"Eager prosecutors and prison officials, with the support of compliant courts, have managed to keep death chambers active." (photo: World Coalition Against the Death Penalty)
“Eager prosecutors and prison officials, with the support of compliant courts, have managed to keep death chambers active.” (photo: World Coalition Against the Death Penalty)
Since 1977, states have adopted the Orwellian practice of staging executions to look like benign medical procedures. This charade was designed to obscure reality. But now botched executions, such as Broom’s, and increasingly pointed objections from the pharmaceutical industry, have focused attention on the legally and ethically dubious ways lethal injection actually works.

In March 2010 Hospira Inc., the sole Food and Drug Administration-approved manufacturer of sodium thiopental, formally asked Ohio prison officials and other states not to use the drug for executions. This plea fell on deaf ears, so in January 2011 Hospira ceased its production.

A mad scramble for a new source ensued. But in a globalized pharmaceutical marketplace, the search for sodium thiopental collided with the rest of the world’s growing opposition to the death penalty. Novartis, a Swiss-based drug company, quickly announced that it would prevent the export of its generic version of sodium thiopental to the United States.

Several states acquired it from Dream Pharma, a small distributor operating out of a driving school in London, but much of it was confiscated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency due to its questionable origins. Nebraska purchased its new sodium thiopental from Kayem, a supplier in India. Like Hospira and Novartis, Kayem tried to disassociate itself from lethal injection, stating that it would no longer sell the drug for use in executions, which it said aren’t consistent with the “ethos of Hinduism.” In the end Nebraska destroyed its newly purchased supply.

Without reliable sources of sodium thiopental, states have turned to a new anesthetic, pentobarbital, manufactured by Denmark-based Lundbeck. On June 23 of this year, Roy Blankenship was put to death in Georgia with Lundbeck’s drug, even though the company had declared it was “not safe” and asked the Peach State not to use it. Pentobarbital, like sodium thiopental, is an anesthetic, and its purpose in executions is to render the prisoner unconscious so that the killing drugs that follow do not cause excruciating pain. Instead, Blankenship reacted strongly to this anesthetic, jerking his head, blinking rapidly, lunging and mouthing inaudible words.

Rather than halting executions temporarily to conduct a full investigation of what happened to Blankenship, the state responded to this debacle by agreeing to another death row inmate’s demand that the next execution be videotaped. The inmate wanted to prove that this drug could cause pain and suffering.

This response illustrates the relentless enthusiasm with which Georgia and some other states pursue executions. Eager prosecutors and prison officials, with the support of compliant courts, have managed to keep death chambers active. There have been more than 90 executions since the bungled lethal injection attempt of Romell Broom.

But this may soon change. Attorneys trying to prevent the cruelty of a botched execution will continue to challenge states’ efforts to conduct experiments on their clients with new execution drugs. In fact, states with small death rows and few executions, seeing costs but no benefits to being associated with such a sordid spectacle, will likely opt out by abolishing capital punishment outright, following the examples set by New Jersey, New Mexico, and Illinois.

Recent developments have permanently destroyed the myth of the humane execution. Lethal injection has been exposed as an ugly business, designed to divert attention from the even uglier reality that states are carrying out deliberate pre-meditated killings.

And in the end, that’s what’s wrong with capital punishment.