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California: With state executions on hold, death penalty foes rethink ballot strategy

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California advocates of abolishing the death penalty got a jolt of momentum in March, when Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that he would not allow any executions to take place while he was in office.
But after trying twice this decade to persuade voters to end capital punishment, they have no plans to go to the ballot again in 2020. Rather than seeking to build on Newsom’s temporary reprieve for Death Row inmates, activists are taking their own pause.
Grappling with the legacy of their two failed initiatives, advocates are reassessing their strategy and retooling their message. Natasha Minsker, a political consultant who has long been involved with abolition efforts, said the governor’s moratorium has given advocates the opportunity to do long-term planning.
“There’s this excitement and energy in our movement that we haven’t had in a long time,” Minsker said.
Newsom’s executive order caught many Californians by surprise. Although he supported the unsuccessful ballot measures to abolish t…

California's death row grows as death sentences decline nationwide

In Los Angeles County alone, 13 convicted murderers were condemned, contributing to the state's 2009 total of 29, according to a national report.

Los Angeles County sent more people to death row this year than Texas, Florida or any other state in the nation, condemning 13 convicted murderers -- the highest number in a decade, according to a Times review of justice statistics.

The increase comes as a national report projects that the number of death sentences issued across the country this year will reach its lowest level since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976.

Los Angeles County helped California buck that trend, boosting the state's death sentences from 20 last year to 29 so far this year, more than a quarter of the nationwide total of 106, according to a report released Friday by the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center. The center attributed the national decline to deepening concerns about the costs of capital punishment and the possibility of wrongful convictions.

California's increase occurred despite legal challenges that have left the state's lethal injection chamber idle for the last four years. Any resumption of executions is still at least a year off, experts said. The 2009 capital sentences have helped push the state's condemned population to 697, the nation's largest by far.

Read the full article here.

Source: The Los Angeles Times, December 19, 2009

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