Sen. Hancock’s Death Penalty Abolition Gets a Hearing

First real hearing of the gut-and-amend bill

by Brian Leubitz

UPDATE: The bill was approved by the committee on a 5-2 vote, so it will move on to the Assembly Appropriations Committee before moving to the full Assembly.

Bills are supposed to have passed one house or another at this point, but being that this is Sacramento, there are always to get around such rules.  For this one, SB 490, it was amended into a bill about reforming the inspector general of the prisons system or something like that.  So, as for this actual bill, today’s Assembly Public Safety Committee hearing will be the first legislative discussion.

Of course, it shouldn’t really be so.  New Mexico, abolished the death penalty in 2009, so talking about the subject shouldn’t really be considered some sort of third rail.  Yet, here in California, it still has some popularity.  Just how popular it is, when people know all the facts, is up for quite a bit of debate.

The witness list is quite interesting for today’s hearing:

·         Judy Kerr, sister of a murder victim and Spokesperson for California Crime Victims for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

From her bio:

“My brother, Robert James Kerr, was found lifeless, shirtless, barefoot and without identification on July 12, 2003 in Everett, Washington. He had been brutally beaten and strangled. ..My grief is raw and unremitting. But I am absolute in my conviction that another death will not serve me. Justice through execution is not the justice I need and it is not the justice I want in my country or my world. I have never and will never support the death penalty. I know now, more than ever, that killing is wrong. Revenge will not bring my brother back and it will not bring me peace. I honor my brother’s life and my memory of him by standing against the death penalty.”

·        Jeanne Woodford,  Former Warden of San Quentin State Prison, where she oversaw four executions, and former Undersecretary and Director of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).  Currently Executive Director, Death Penalty Focus; a national non-profit organization.

·         Don Heller, the author of California’s death-penalty law, Proposition 7 (1978), who now believes the law should be eliminated. He has been an active member of the New York Bar since 1969 and the California Bar since 1973.

·       Senator Loni Hancock (D-Oakland), Chair of the Senate Public Safety Committee, and Chair, Senate Budget Subcommittee on Corrections (which oversees the state prison system budget).

As you can see from that list, the death penalty in this state has a very sordid history.  It just hasn’t ever really worked here (or anywhere really), and doesn’t accomplish any of its stated goals.  Violence is not deterred by violence, it’s just a fact of nature.  ANd spending billions of dollars on a procedure that is rarely, if ever, used seems like a poor use of resources in these scant times.

Given these witnesses, there is sure to be some interesting conversation at the hearing.  You can watch the hearing live online at