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Executions in California May be Stopped

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Original Title:
Moratorium on Executions in California Proposed

The controversy and publicity generated by the execution of Stanley Tookie Williams is focusing attention on a measure that would suspend California's death penalty law for three years.

Assembly Bill 1121 would put executions in the state on hold until January 1, 2009. The bill's authors say that would give lawmakers time to study a review of the state's death penalty procedures being undertaken by The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice. The commission is one year into its study, which must be completed by December 31, 2007. Legislators and criminal justice experts would have until 2008 to go over the report and make recommendations, if necessary.

Unless lawmakers act on the recommendations or extend the suspension of the death penalty, the moratorium would end January 1, 2009.

With more than 100 death row convictions overturned since the 1970s because the accused were found to be innocent, the authors of "California Moratorium on Executions Act" say they fear an innocent person may be wrongly executed under current state procedures. "We can't gurantee that we don't have innocent people who have been put to death in California or will be," said AB 1121's co-author Sally Lieber, D-Mountain View.

Lieber said she wouldn't be surprised if a review of California's procedures reveal a troubled system similar to that in Illinois. In 2000, after 13 people on Illinois' death row were exonerated, Illinois Gov. George Ryan declared a moratorium on executions in his state. "There was evidence of racial bias and that situations like inadequate council in capital cases was affecting the number of cases that should be commuted," Lieber said.

Those who favor keeping California's capital punishment law in place argue death penalty cases are the mostly thoroughly reviewed of any criminal cases. "The amount of review, the Williams' case is one of them, 24 years in that case, hundreds of separate appeals. There are no cases in the country or in the world that are as closely looked at as a California death penalty case," said David LaBahn of the California District Attorneys Association.

Court challenges overturned California's death penalty law in 1967. It was reinstated in 1977. Since 1992, 12 inmates have been put to death. Two others are scheduled to be executed in January and February.

According to the state Department of Corrections, there are more than 640 men and women on death row in California.

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