Author Of Ballot Initiative That Legalized The Death Penalty In California Endorses Initiative To End Death Sentences

Death Penalty Advocate Turned Anti-Death Penalty Activist Donald Heller

Donald Heller is a former prosecutor who authored the 1978 California ballot initiative that reinstated the death penalty in that state. He’s now become one of the most outspoken advocates of Proposition 34, which will repeal his handiwork from more than three decades ago and replace the death penalty with life sentences without the possibility of parole. In a column in the Los Angeles Daily News, Heller explained his change of heart:

I made a terrible mistake 33 years ago, but it is one that can be corrected. People are working hard to give voters the opportunity in the next election to replace the death penalty with life in prison without possibility of parole. If given that chance, I call upon all Californians to join me in voting yes to abolish capital punishment. . . . I never contemplated the staggering cost of implementing the death penalty: more than $4 billion to date and approximately $185 million projected per year in ongoing costs. . . .

A gross miscarriage of justice can happen, even in California. I am convinced that at least one innocent person may have been executed under the current death penalty law. It was not my intent nor do I believe that of the voters who overwhelmingly enacted the death penalty law in 1978. We did not consider that horrific possibility.

A recent poll found that 50 percent of likely California voters prefer life without parole to execution, while only 42 percent support the death penalty.