Click photo to enlarge
Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, right, speaks to the media Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012, alongside Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko, from right, Deputy District Attorney Josh Lowery, former Shasta County district attorney, and former U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott, in front of the Shasta County Courthouse in Redding, Calif. The group held a news conference urging voters to vote no on Proposition 34, which seeks to abolish the death penalty in California. (AP Photo/The Record Searchlight, Greg Barnette)

Passage of Proposition 34 on the November ballot would not only replace implementation of the death penalty in California with a sentence of life in prison without parole, it would also end emotionally charged fictitious campaign arguments.

The emotional arguments on capital punishment have a long shelf life and have withstood the fierce onslaught of rational discourse and facts for decades.

One of the most forceful arguments in support of the death penalty is that its elimination would free those convicted of the most heinous crimes. Obviously, no one wants to see convicted murderers such as Scott Peterson, Richard Allen Davis or Richard Ramirez back on the streets.

But this effective canard possesses an origin that contains a kernel of truth; his name is Robert Lee Massie.

In 1972, when the U.S. Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional, the state had no sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Instead, death-row inmates' sentences were commuted to life, which made them eligible for parole hearings. Several California death-row inmates were released, including Massie in 1978, who went on to subsequently commit another murder.

If that is the primary concern that voters have about Proposition 34, they should fear not.

Proposition 34, which prohibits death-row inmates from getting parole, eliminates any replication of the Massie case.

In addition to replacing the death penalty with life without the possibility of parole, Proposition 34, if passed, would require inmates to work and pay restitution to the victims' compensation fund. It would also allocate $90 million over three years to solve more murders and rapes in California.

The No on 34 campaign admits on its website that the death penalty is given to 2 percent of all convicted murderers. This mere 2 percent has cost California taxpayers about $4 billion since capital punishment was reinstated.

This works out to approximately $300 million per execution, according to a study conducted last year by federal Judge Arthur Alarcón and Loyola Law School professor Paula M. Mitchell.

Moreover, they estimate the state's death penalty costs are expected to be in the neighborhood of $9 billion by 2030.

Historically, it is at this juncture that replacing the death penalty is met with feeble attempts to retool it. "Why not get rid of frivolous appeals?" is the simplistic outcry to justify this arcane and expensive public policy.

My consistent opposition over the years to capital punishment has been based on two primary factors: cost and error percentage.

Those who support the death penalty must either have an error percentage in which they find comfort or ignore the possibility that the most ghoulish of outcomes can exist.

This is where the death penalty is unique. It is the only sentence that once implemented offers no retraction.

I am simply not willing to exchange the possibility of one innocent life to fulfill my thirsts for revenge.

If, indeed, capital punishment is the deterrent that many death penalty supporters claim, though there is no substantive data to support this claim, wouldn't life without the possibility of parole achieve the same goal?

According to the Legislative Analyst's report, Proposition 34 will save California taxpayers $130 million annually without releasing a single prisoner.

The irony to the death penalty debate has been that California already has a de facto life without the possibility of parole. Most inmates on death row are more likely to die of old age or illness than lethal injection.

Emotion, more than actual facts, has been the formidable ally sustaining an ineffectual policy. But time has informed us there can be no such things as a more perfect death penalty.

Contact Byron Williams at 510-208-6417 or byron@byronspeaks.com.