OC Political

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Son of Conservative Former OC State Senator Supports Effort to Repeal Death Penalty

Posted by Newsletter Reprint on March 2, 2012

This Sacramento Bee article just came across the wire from one of our readers:

El Dorado supervisor backs repeal of death penalty
By Carlos Alcalá – Sacramento Bee
Published: Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2012 – Page 1BRon Briggs recalls turning 21 just in time to hoist an alcoholic drink in celebration of the 1978 victory of Proposition 7, his family’s initiative that broadened the application of the death penalty.At 54, the conservative Republican El Dorado County supervisor is no longer celebrating that win.

He is campaigning against the law he once believed would execute the worst criminals, a law he says went badly wrong. The law was well-drafted enough to survive court challenges, but its consequences are “horrible,” Briggs said last week, sitting on the same land outside Placerville where his family came up with the initiative.

His father, former state Sen. John Briggs, led the campaign for Proposition 7, which broadly rewrote the state’s laws regarding murder: increasing penalties for first- and second-degree murder; revising and expanding the special circumstances categories that require the death penalty or life in prison; and revising laws related to mitigating and aggravating circumstances.

John Briggs does not share his son’s opposition to the death penalty but agrees that the death penalty is not working as the initiative intended.

“What’s not working is the application of the sentence,” he said. “Sentences aren’t being carried out.”

In March, Ron Briggs expects to help deliver initiative signatures to put capital punishment’s repeal on the ballot in November.

“I don’t think any of us contemplated there would be a $4 billion price tag,” Briggs said, alluding to one estimate of what the death penalty has cost since 1978.

Backers of SAFE California claim abolishing executions and replacing them with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, or LWOPP, could save $100 million a year.

Briggs’ photo is now prominent on SAFE California’s website home page, along with those of a man wrongly convicted and the mother of a murder victim.

Briggs’ turnaround “is a very powerful testament that is going to get attention from a lot of California,” said Natasha Minsker, SAFE California campaign manager.

It may be the victims who swayed Briggs most to change his mind.

Several years ago, he met a woman brutally attacked by James Karis Jr. in 1981. Karis was sentenced to die for killing the woman’s co-worker, but the verdict was overturned.

In 2007, on trial again, he was sentenced to die again.

Each time he went to court, the victim relived Karis’ brutal attack on her and the co-worker, which included kidnapping, rape, shooting and having rocks thrown at their heads.

“Twenty-six years later,” Briggs said. “That’s just wrong.”

Instead of putting the worst to death, Proposition 7 and subsequent laws have tripled the death row population, Briggs said.

“It torments and terrorizes the victims,” he said.

About the same time he came to know the victim, “this community had a spate of capital cases,” Briggs said.

Supervisor Briggs was paring county budgets while being asked to come up with hundreds of thousands of dollars for district attorney and public defender death penalty expenses, he said.

Death penalty advocates don’t dispute the costs and problems with the system.

“His view of it and my view of it are very similar,” said El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson, a friend of Briggs who supports capital punishment.

Pierson’s office most recently won a death penalty verdict in 2010.

The difference is: Pierson and others think changes are possible.

“We’ve proposed reforms of the death penalty to speed up the appellate process so the costs could be reduced,” said Scott Thorpe, CEO of the California District Attorneys Association.

“The solution is not to get rid of the death penalty, but to make it more efficient,” he said.

Briggs disagrees. He wants those on death row returned to the general population, where they’ll cost the state less and be able to perform work for restitution.

Any attempt at reform would be stymied, he thinks.

“We can’t even build a gas chamber,” he said, of the oft-thwarted efforts to replace California’s method of killing killers.

John Briggs said he supports giving people the chance to vote on whether they want to codify what he termed “a de facto life sentencing mechanism,” but that doesn’t mean he backs SAFE California.

“I have not lent my name to it,” he said, though his son might like him to.

“It’s my mission in life to get him to be a LWOPP supporter,” Ron Briggs said.

Ron Briggs thinks support for capital punishment has shrunk to nearly 50 percent, and hopes the arguments of fiscal conservatives like himself will be enough to make the difference in an election.

“And if it doesn’t, we’ll go at it and start it for the next one,” he said.

Politically, he doesn’t see the death penalty as the litmus test it once was, even in conservative El Dorado County.

If it does cost him politically, “chips fall as they may,” Briggs said. “I can’t be everything to everybody.”

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