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Battle Over Prop. 34 Death Penalty Ban Heats Up

While latest ad from 34's backers focuses on wrongful convictions, opponents spotlight former 49ers cornerback Kermit Alexander, whose family was gunned down in 1984 by a man who remains on Death Row.

With less than two weeks to go before the Nov. 6 election, the battle over Proposition 34, the proposed ban of the death penalty in California, appears to be tightening, and its proponents are raising the stakes.

Yes on Prop. 34, the campaign to replace the death penalty with a sentence of life without parole, create a $100 million fund to investigate rape and murder cases and require inmates to work and pay restitution to victims or their families,  launched a $2 million radio and TV ad campaign this week.

In doing so, Prop. 34 backers hope to make the case that capital punishment in California is a waste of taxpayer money, citing the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office estimate that the state could save as much as $130 million a year if the death penalty is abolished. No inmate has been executed since early 2006, when a federal judge ordered a moratorium because of questions about lethal injection protocol. That moratorium remains in place, and Prop. 34 proponents also cite a former appeals court judge's 2011 study that found that since 1978 capital punishment has cost California about $4 billion.

All male Death Row inmates in California are housed at Marin's San Quentin State Prison, where executions were carried out until the moratorium.

A new prop-34 TV ad in major California media markets also argues that the death penalty often prevents the wrongfully convicted from seeking justice.

"Yes on 34 went on the air to communicate with the greatest number of voters to make sure they know that if we use life in prison without the possibility of parole instead of the death penalty, we will insure no innocent person will be executed, we can make murderers work in prison, and we can use its law enforcement dollars more efficiently to put more murders behind bars where they belong," wrote Natasha Minsker, the Yes on 34 campaign manager, in an email.

As both sides reach out to those undeciced voters, Prop. 34's proponents have considerably more resources to wield. The campaign has raised nearly $7 million as of Oct. 16, much of which has come from Hyatt Development Corp. billionaire Nicholas Pritzker, the Atlantic Advocacy Fund, the American Civil Liberties Union and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, according to MapLight's VotersEdge campaign finance tool.

Prop. 34 opponents, meanwhile, have raised just $342,000 to date, nearly all of which has come from the Peace Officers Research Association of California.

Despite its vast fundraising lead, the Yes on Prop. 34 campaign has faced an uphill battle in swaying public opinion about the death penalty, but recent polls have indicated the race is tightening.

While a Sept. 30  USC Dornsife/Los Angeles  Times poll found voters against Prop. 34 51 percent to 38 percent, an Oct. 11 poll conducted by the  California Business Roundtable/Pepperdine University showed that margin narrowing to 48 percent to 43 percent.

Where do you stand on Prop. 34? Tell us in the Comments.

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