11 Stories That Are Making History
By Jeanne Woodford
Death Penalty Focus
On March 1st, I participated in one of four simultaneous press conferences held across California to announce that the SAFE California Campaign would be on the November 2012 ballot. As the official proponent of the SAFE California Act, I was proud to present the 800,000 voter signatures collected by SAFE California volunteers and signature gatherers -- well above the 504,000 minimum required to qualify. (You can thank those volunteers – and everyone responsible for this achievement – using our online thank you card.)
The occasion was truly momentous -- next November will mark the first time ever in the state’s history that voters will have the chance to replace the death penalty with a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Each one of us that announced our great achievement in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, and Sacramento has a story, whether it’s a story about law enforcement, deep loss, or innocence and wrongful conviction.
My story is about my commitment to solving crime. As the former warden of San Quentin and director of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, I have over 30 years of experience in law enforcement. I know that the best way to prevent crime is to solve it. By replacing the death penalty, California will free up much-needed funds for DNA testing and other vital tools needed to tackle the shocking 46% of murder and 56% of reported rape cases that remain unsolved in our state every year, on average.
That’s why in San Francisco, I spoke about the waste of hundreds of millions of dollars that would be better used for DNA analysis and rape kits. Judge LaDoris Cordell explained how 19 years of experience in Santa Clara courts proved to her that our personal and public safety is harmed by the death penalty, and Obie Anthony, a man who was wrongfully convicted and served 17 years in prison for a murder he did not commit, stood up as living proof that our criminal justice system -- good as it is -- sometimes makes mistakes that have tragic consequences.
In Los Angeles, former District Attorney Gil Garcetti, who sought the death penalty as a prosecutor, explained that he’s come to see the death penalty as a hollow promise that serves no useful purpose and drains funds from education and crime prevention. Franky Carrillo told his story of conviction by mistaken eyewitness identification at age 16. If not for his juvenile status, Franky would have been sentenced to death. Aqeela Sherrills and Brent Tonick, both of whom have lost loved ones to violence, recounted their experience with tragedy and the impact of unsolved murder on families.
In Sacramento, two of the architects of California’s modern death penalty, Ron Briggs and Don Heller, said that 34 years later they could see that the system they created is a failure that needs to be scrapped. And in San Diego, leaders of the California Innocence Project stood alongside another former warden and murder victim family member -- to announce their support for SAFE California.
You can learn more about each of these remarkable people and their stories on SAFE California’s website. News articles and editorials from all around the state also include their unique perspectives, from the Los Angeles Times to the San Francisco Chronicle to La Opinión.
Just about everyone in the state is talking about SAFE California’s bid to make history this November. There is a new and vibrant chorus of voices that are being heard far and wide. I am honored to join my voice to theirs and to invite voters to join us this November by saying “YES” to SAFE California.
Jeanne Woodford is the former Warden at San Quentin State Prison and current Executive Director at Death Penalty Focus, and official proponent of the SAFE California Campaign.