Gil Garcetti is walking in downtown Los Angeles in front of a building he is very familiar with. He is standing outside the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office, a place he spent 32 years prosecuting dozens of death penalty cases.
“We not just prosecuted them,” he says as he looks up at the “Hall of Records” building located on West Temple, “but we convicted most of them.”
Now the former DA has changed his mind about giving felons the ultimate punishment. He says prosecuting death penalty cases is “too expensive.”
“The $184 million the death penalty is costing is a total waste of money,” says Garcetti. “It's flushing it down the toilet.”
There’s also a lot of room for error, Garcetti warns.
“Unfortunately,” he says, “we are dealing with human beings, so there’s fallibility.”
Garcetti is now supporting California “Prop 34,” which would eliminate the death penalty in California.
But opponents say Garcetti and others are advocating letting hundreds of killers and rapists off the hook.
“These people are literally the worst of the worst in the penal system in California,” says McGregor Scott, a former U.S. Attorney and a spokesman for the “No on 34” campaign.
“These are the most egregious cases, the most horrific.”
Scott points out the 725 inmates on death row in California have murdered more than 200 children, and nearly 50 police officers.
“Nearly 100 committed rape and murder and nearly 50 committed torture and murder,” he says.
“They are those whose conduct was heard by a jury of their peers and found to be so egregious and so horrific that the death penalty was deemed by those juries to be appropriate punishment.”
California practiced capital punishment for nearly 200 years before it was deemed unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court in 1972. Voters reinstated the practice through a ballot measure in 1978, but the practice has remained controversial in the Golden State. In 2006, a state judge temporarily halted state killings after finding the execution process flawed. In addition, although there have been hundreds on death row, only 13 have actually been killed in the past 24 years.
“No one is being executed,” says Garcetti. “Most people who are on death row now will die of natural causes.”
At the same time, Garcetti says death row inmates are “treated like rock stars.”
“They have private cells, private privileges,” he says. “Why do we do that?
“Put them in the general population and you will save more than $184 million a year and protect the community.”
Scott says putting death row inmates back in General Population is a bad idea that “will create huge problems,” particularly, he says, for Correction Officers.
“If someone has already committed murder,” he says, “they have no disincentive to attack and in some circumstances to murder again against those guarding them in the facility.”
Scott also says “life in prison” will cost Californians more not less.
“The taxpayers of this state will fund health care costs and incarcerations costs for those persons for the rest of their natural lives.”
“On average we will incarcerate these death row inmates for 25 additional years beyond when we could normally expect them to be executed,” says Scott.
“Over the long term this proposition will cost the tax payers hundreds of millions of dollars more.”
“I'm smiling because that is so misleading,” says Garcetti, who says housing death penalty inmates is a huge expense.
“It actually costs substantially less if they were in the general population as opposed to having almost luxury suites.”
But in the end, he says killing people is simply too large a responsibility for the state to take on.
He points out 140 people on death row nationally have been found to be “factually innocent.”
“We have 720 people on California's death row, chances are you have at least one person who is factually innocent.”