Capitol Alert

Death penalty urged, condemned in dueling California hearings

California death penalty: justice or debacle?

Legislative hearings on 2016 two capital punishment ballot measures featured former M*A*S*H star Mike Farrell against past NFL player and crime victim Kermit Alexander. Warning: Explicit language in the testimony. Video courtesy of the California
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Legislative hearings on 2016 two capital punishment ballot measures featured former M*A*S*H star Mike Farrell against past NFL player and crime victim Kermit Alexander. Warning: Explicit language in the testimony. Video courtesy of the California

With emotional appeals and celebrity testimonials on both sides, Tuesday hearings on California’s death penalty previewed an incendiary debate should the issue land on the November ballot.

Dueling ballot initiatives would either nix capital punishment or reinforce the death penalty by expediting cases. Neither has yet garnered enough signatures to go before voters, but both measures have drawn enough support to trigger mandatory legislative hearings.

Supporters of abolishing the death penalty, including former M*A*S*H star Mike Farrell, argue the practice is inhumane, costly and bound to kill wrongly convicted innocents.

Advocates of speeding up the process, including former professional football player Kermit Alexander, charge that long delays deprive victims of justice.

It has been a decade since California last executed an inmate. Some have died while sitting on death row, where the man who killed Alexander’s relatives in 1984 remains. He is one of 747 inmates there.

About 750 condemned inmates are living out their lives on death row at San Quentin State Prison, California's oldest state prison which opened in 1852.

On Dec. 20, 1980, Richard Hirschfield murdered UC Davis sweethearts John Riggins and Sabrina Gonsalves. A Sacramento Superior Court jury convicted Hirschfield of the crime, and in early 2013, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael W. Sweet senten

Jeremy B. White: 916-326-5543, @CapitolAlert

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