Battling the Death Penalty: Two Who Fought for It

Ron Briggs and Donald Heller wish they could undo Proposition 7
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 7, 2012 3:31 PM CDT
Battling the Death Penalty: Two Men Who Fought for It
The execution room is shown Friday, Nov. 18, 2011, at the Oregon State Penitentiary, in Salem, Ore.   (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Californians will soon consider an initiative to repeal the state's death penalty. Two of its biggest backers? The men who successfully championed the expansion of California's death penalty 34 years ago, the New York Times reports. Ron Briggs, now a farmer and Republican county official, ran the campaign for Proposition 7; former prosecutor Donald J. Heller wrote it. But "it’s been a colossal failure,” says Heller of a program that has executed only 13 people since 1978.

Briggs' message to his Republican friends: "If there was a state program that was costing $185 million a year and only gave the money to lawyers and criminals, what would you do with it?" But polling shows that the state overwhelmingly supports the death penalty, and die-hards—including Briggs' own father—will surely vote against the initiative's call for mandatory life without parole. Says Ron Briggs Sr: "It's the system that doesn't work. Your car’s not working either if you can’t turn the damn key on, and they’ve turned the damn key off.” (More death penalty stories.)

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