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On The Money: Cost Of Killing The Death Penalty

Nearly two out of every three Americans support the death penalty, according to the latest Gallup Poll.

But California is paying a high price for keeping prisoners on death row -– and then not executing them. A new study, conducted by a federal judge finds the death penalty in California has become a multi-billion dollar debacle.

Death penalty opponents point to the case involving Kevin Green –- a Marine who was stationed in California. Green's pregnant wife Dianna was brutally attacked by a serial killer in 1979.

"He came in with a 2x4 and hit her in the head until he thought she was dead," Green told CBS13. "She was nine and a half months pregnant. Ten hours after the attack, our daughter died."

The killer, Gerald Parker, is now in San Quentin on death row.

But Kevin Green doesn't want the so-called "Bedroom Basher" to be executed behind bars.

"It's a human system, we make mistakes," he told CBS13.

Kevin Green knows all about mistakes –- because he was the one wrongfully convicted for attacking Dianna. He served 16 years behind bars in California until new DNA evidence cleared Green of the crime that Gerald Parker later admitted to committing. Green later received $620,000 from the state to compensate him for spending time behind bars for a crime he did not commit.

Wrongful convictions aside, death penalty opponents are now using a new argument to advance their case. They point to the new study authored by Judge Arthur Alarcon, a senior judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The study concludes that capital punishment is wasting billions of taxpayer dollars.

"Four billion dollars to execute 13 people," said Jeanne Woodford, the former warden at San Quentin prison. While there, Woodford carried out four executions -– at a cost of $308 million each.

Yet California hasn't executed anyone since 2006 -– also making those 714 death row prisoners very expensive.

"California's death penalty costs $184 million more per year than if we had a system of life without possibility of parole," Woodford told reporters at a recent Sacramento news conference.

Death penalty cases are much more expensive to prosecute.

"Every time a prosecutor seeks death in a case, I have to assign two of our most senior trial deputies," said Ron Brown, public defender for Los Angeles County. Brown told lawmakers at the Capitol, "They're not only experienced but they're very costly."

Twenty times more costly, according to the study, which found that taxpayers are stuck with infinite appeals at $300,000 for every death row inmate.

"We found that the average time now for a direct appeal after a conviction in California is approaching 15 years," Judge Alarcon told CBS13.

Richard Davis
Richard Davis

It takes even longer to execute a prisoner in California –- the average wait is now 25 years. But it's a cost that many crime victims and their families are willing to pay for justice –- that's what Mark Klaas is looking for – after his 12-year old daughter Polly was kidnapped and killed by a lifelong criminal, Richard Allen Davis.

"And when they strap him in to the gurney, believe me I'll be there and I'll be drinking champagne that night," Mark Klaas told CBS13.

Davis was convicted in 1996 and has been living on death row at San Quentin ever since. Despite the cost, Mark Klaas says it would be a big mistake to get rid of the death penalty.

"It's the last thing they want and I think the last thing that we want as a society is to give them what they want," Klaas said.

But executing the will of the people is expensive -– with costs expected to more than double to $9 billion by 2030, according to the Alarcon study.

California has executed just 13 prisoners since 1978, and there's a movement now to eliminate the death penalty and replace it with life in prison without possibility of parole. That initiative could be on the ballot for California voters next year.

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