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It is a matter of innocence, not economics

October 1, 2012

by Jarvis Jay Masters

Please DON’T vote in favor of “The SAFE California Act” to end California’s death penalty.

You need to know that your vote for this act would throw away the key for all the innocent men and women on death row and, instead, sentence all prisoners on death row to spend the rest of their lives in prison without the possibility of parole and without effective legal representation.

Jarvis Masters
The way I see it is, behind the scenes, the “Act” has been to cast Jeannie Woodford, former prison guard, former San Quentin warden, former director of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and current director of Death Penalty Focus, an organization striving to abolish the death penalty, to build support for this “Act” from, among others, the prison guards union.

Please DON’T vote in favor of “The SAFE California Act” to end California’s death penalty.

I am not the first to say how deeply troubling it is to see this initiative being advocated for by a woman who presided over state executions without ever offering an OPEN apology.

There is something even more troubling about depending on a flawed prison system and its employees to go ahead and make this decision, when the men and women at risk have never been asked for our two cents about matters that affect our life and death.

Despite what I have been told, I believe this “SAFE California Act” will remove the statutory appeals guaranteed under the present law. This new law will assume that all those on death row are uniformly guilty. Don’t I matter? What about the innocent men and women presently on death row, these same men and women who will no longer have the effective legal means to a genuine appeal?

Your vote for this act would throw away the key for all the innocent men and women on death row and, instead, sentence all prisoners on death row to spend the rest of their lives in prison without the possibility of parole and without effective legal representation.

If having effective legal representation has anything to do with the state’s money crunch, then, make no mistake, innocent human beings will die in prison. If Californians really want to save the state money, here’s an idea: Why not eliminate the “vengeance sentencing” of the Three Strikes Law. Eliminating Three Strikes would close prisons and save millions of dollars every year.

Those supporting the SAFE California Act on economic grounds – that eliminating the death penalty will save money for a cash-strapped state – I have never heard them mention the moral and ethical issues of putting a fellow human being to death. You would not be casting a real vote to answer the prayers of prisoners by ending capital punishment. Let us first be human beings.

No! For myself and others here on San Quentin’s death row, the way we will eliminate the death penalty is to look at what other states have done and work to provide more effective legal representation to show and prove there are more and more innocent men and women on death row.

If having effective legal representation has anything to do with the state’s money crunch, then, make no mistake, innocent human beings will die in prison.

It is a fact that, again and again, the greater public and their legislators have changed their opinions about the death penalty after discovering innocent people who were condemned to death.

Why not start proving the cases of innocent people and free them to tell their truths, tell of their years of horror, and then let the state decide: Do you morally want to have a legal system that will put to death human beings, even the innocent ones?

Jarvis Jay Masters has been incarcerated for 32 years on San Quentin’s Death Row. He is the author of “Finding Freedom: Writings from Death Row” and “That Bird Has My Wings: The Autobiography of an Innocent Man on Death Row.”

 

3 thoughts on “It is a matter of innocence, not economics

  1. Ann_Garrison

    Regarding this statement:

    "Despite what I have been told, I believe this “SAFE California Act” will remove the statutory appeals guaranteed under the present law."

    I wonder whether Jarvis Jay Masters has a copy of the proposition. This should be evident, one way or another, in the text of the bill.

    Reply
  2. Christine

    Jarvis Masters is correct. Death is different. An attorney provided by the state for anything other than the direct appeal (habeas, habeas appeal) is not provided for those who are not under a sentence of death with only a few rare exceptions (1 or 2 Percent) and that would be after you had been able to get it timely and correctly filed as not to be time barred by the AEDPA. One of the reasons we have over 4000 men and women serving LWOP, now in CA – there are no attorneys lining up pro bono to represent these prisoners. In fact, there are 320+ prisoners on death row now awaiting the appointment of habeas counsel the State would pay, only qualified counsel cannot even be found when funds to pay are available. A broken system indeed.

    Reply

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