Fatal stance - Page 2

As the D.A.'s race heats up, the death penalty emerges as a big issue

Capital punishment is becoming a bigger issue in San Francisco and statewide.

But Onek accused Gascón of giving a politician's answer. "Gascón is trying to have it both ways," Onek told the Guardian. "The voters have the right to hear a clear answer to a fundamental question. And my answer is clear — I will not seek the death penalty in San Francisco and I will continue to work to change the law statewide. To me, it's a yes or no question, and I won't seek it. Period."

Onek says his stance is informed by his belief that the death penalty solves nothing. "It doesn't make us safer; it's not fair and equitable; and it wastes enormous resources," he said. "We are much better off spending our precious resources on things that actually make us safer, like more cops on the streets, more programs in our communities, and better services for victims."

Gov. Jerry Brown made a similar comparison last month when he canceled a $356 million project for a new death row at San Quentin. "At a time when children, the disabled, and seniors face painful cuts to essential programs, the state of California cannot justify a massive expenditure of public dollars for the worst criminals in our state," Brown said.

A recent David Binder research poll found 63 percent support statewide for commuting all of the 700 sentences of California's death row inmates to life in prison without parole and requiring them to pay restitution to the victims' families, while 70 percent of Bay Area voters support the plan, which would save the state $1 billion over five years.

At a May 18 panel discussion on the death penalty, Public Defender Jeff Adachi's criminal justice summit offered panel moderator Matt Gonzalez, a chief attorney in Adachi's office, a timely opportunity to grill Gascón about his death penalty stance.

"Folks felt it might be a step backward," Gonzalez said, noting that former D.A. Terence Hallinan pledged not to seek the death penalty when he ran for reelection in 2000, and Harris followed suit when she first ran for district attorney in 2003. "So — are you pro death?" Gonzalez asked.

"No, but I am a public official," Gascón replied, even as he repeated his misgivings about the death penalty, including the fact that 62 percent of those on death row are minority populations, especially from African American and Latino communities.

The panel also provided a chance to see Gascón debate exonerated death row inmate JT Thompson, watch American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California attorney Natasha Minsker explain why the death penalty system is dysfunctional, and witness former San Quentin prison warden Jeanne Woodford describe how the impacts of the four executions that she reluctantly oversaw motivated her to sign on as director of Death Penalty Focus, a nonprofit dedicated to abolishing capital punishment.

"Who is responsible for the prosecutors that go bad?" asked Thompson, an African American man who spent 14 years on death row in Louisiana, and another four facing life without parole, because a prosecutor suppressed exculpatory evidence.

"When I was sentenced to death in 1985, for a crime I didn't commit, I thought this would be rectified right away. But it took 18 years, and I watched 12 inmates being executed while I was there," Thompson said, noting that he was holed up 23 hours a day.

Gascón said he would terminate prosecutors who withheld exculpatory evidence, but said he didn't know if he could charge them with murder.

Thompson, founder of the New Orleans-based nonprofit Resurrection after Exoneration, argued that the debate needs to be recast from its current public safety frame.

"People need to be asked, 'Under what conditions do you support giving the state the right to kill you?' " Thompson said.


Gascon is a joke played on the citizens of San Francisco by former mayor Gavin Newsom. He is an out-of-towner from Arizona of all places, and a former Republican who only became a Democrat after moving to SF. He has no right to hold any office in this town!

Posted by GrannyGear on May. 30, 2011 @ 4:20 am

Sharmin Bock is the only seasoned prosecutor in the race. Niether Gascon or
Onek have the skill and know how to run the DA's office. If either of these two elected you would have to hire "under-DA" to run office, Gascon and Onek would just be figureheads, drawing huge salary to push a few papers around and attend political events. The DA's job not a job for politicians, this is a job that best goes to an individual who has paid dues. Bock has extensive back-round as working prosecutor, you won't have to hire anybody to run the office, she knows what to do. That's why I am backing Bock. It's a no-brainer, you want a proecutor for DA's job!

Posted by Guestrewgolfer on May. 31, 2011 @ 6:30 pm

Sharmin Bock has muddied the waters so much that I have no idea where she stands. Sounds like she wants to have it both ways -she wants the votes of death penalty opponents with her weak lip service to "serious misgivings." But she's also playing dog whistle politics to the right wingers. Sorry, you just can't have it both ways.

I could care less about her inner moral struggle. I want a clear answer -will she commit to not using the death penalty, or not?

If she doesn't have the backbone to give us a clear answer, then she doesn't deserve the job. And same goes for Gascon.

Posted by Greg on May. 31, 2011 @ 7:15 pm

Anyone but Gascon!
Let's vote this clown back to L.A.

Posted by Guest on May. 31, 2011 @ 7:19 pm

Could you tell me the difference between Gascon's ideology and Bock's? it's a serious question, because unless a decent candidate enters the race, I'll be stuck voting for one of these clowns for second place. So far, I can't discern any difference in their worldviews. But since you're in the "anyone but Gascon" camp, apparently you can. I'd be curious to know what that difference is.

Posted by Greg on May. 31, 2011 @ 7:28 pm

Gascon pushed for legislation to take away your freedom to sit on a public sidewalk, anywhere in San Francisco.

Gascon tried to scare the people of SFwith the bogeyman of terrorism in an effort to re-start the SFPD Spy Unit so he could spy on San Francisco residents. The same Spy Unit that was disbanded in disgrace after being caught spying on innocent San Franciscans for the ADL.

He also spread fears of terrorist attacks to push a bond issue for more money for police facilities.

Gascon wasted millions of taxpayer's dollars on a boondoggle of a new crime tracking computer system (Compstat) that is to blame for egregious abuse of power in the form of arrest quotas?

Gascon couldn't wait to spend your money on Compstat. He even gave his LAPD buddy Jeff Godown a job running it for a mere $270,000.00 per year. Do you like new quarter million dollar PER YEAR bureaucratic positions being created for politician's friends?

If you like being spied on, having your civil rights stripped away, and your taxes wasted on politician's buddies, then yeah, I guess Gascon is your man.

Also, Sharmin Bock has experience as a prosecutor.
Gascon has experience as a spotlight sucking politician.

Posted by Arnold on May. 31, 2011 @ 8:55 pm

Arnold, you're preaching to the choir about how terrible Gascon is. But I don't necessarily see Bock as any better.

I see two traditional law-and-order conservatives, both wanting to have it both ways on the death penalty (I suspect both closet supporters who are lying to the public to get votes), and neither having much to say about police misconduct.

Saying over and over again that Bock is a prosecutor won't convince me one bit. Experience implies competence, but before I look at competence, I want to make sure of what it is they're going to be competent at doing. In other words, where do they stand on the issues?

If you have two candidates who are both terrible on the issues, both have a program that will take things in the wrong direction... who would you choose -the one that is incompetent at taking things in the wrong direction, or the one who would be brutally efficient at implementing the program?

That said, there are, of course, more than two candidates, as much as the Bock supporters want to gloss over that fact.

Posted by Greg on May. 31, 2011 @ 10:16 pm