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A young child stops to look at a makeshift memorial and a missing person's banner offering a half-million dollar reward for the safe return of Laci Peterson at the East La Loma Park January 4, 2003 in Modesto, California. 

Victims’ Families Have Different Opinions on California Death Penalty

Posted 6:20 PM, October 27, 2016, by Kay Recede, Updated at 06:19pm, October 27, 2016
MODESTO -- Laci Peterson’s mother spoke in favor of Proposition 66 in Modesto on Thursday.

She, along with district attorneys, sheriffs and other law enforcement leaders in the Central Valley rallied in support of the proposition that would amend the state’s death penalty system by shortening the time of legal challenges.

However, those who oppose argue, a "yes" vote would create trouble for taxpayers and more heartbreak for victims' families.

Senseless killings claimed the lives of both Beth Webb’s and Sharon Rocha’s loved ones.

Webb’s sister, Laura Webb, was one of eight people gunned down in Southern California in 2011. Her killer, Scott Dekraii, pleaded guilty to the killings two years ago but has not been sentenced.

While Rocha’s daughter, Laci Peterson, was murdered by her own husband, Scott Peterson, in 2002. He, too, has been convicted and is now sitting on death row.

But both women, while hurt by tragedy, have different views on Proposition 66.

"I don’t think we should do away with the death penalty. I think it needs to be changed, which is what 66 is all about,” Rocha said.

"We are in a process that is decades away from being finalized and Prop 66 cannot solve that,” Webb said.

In a press conference on Thursday, Rocha, with law enforcement leaders, praised Prop 66 and claimed it would be the answer to delays and inefficiencies with the state’s current system.

"No. 1 it will expedite the process,” Rocha said.

Prop 66 would speed up the legal process and appoint attorneys to those convicted when they’re sentenced.

"No. 2, they will be able to have their appeals lawyers much earlier as opposed to seven, 10 years down the road,” Rocha said.

But Webb, who spoke to us via Skype, believes California cannot handle these potential changes.

"It’s not going to happen. We don’t have the drugs, they don’t have the lawyers,” she said.

Webb also believes ending a life is not the answer. She believes a convicted killer should spend their life behind bars, without the possibility of parole.

"We are not willing to kill one innocent person in a flawed death penalty system,” Webb said.

While both women are pulling voters in different directions, they’re united that through some way they can do right by Laci and by Laura.

"I miss her with every fiber of being. And I’m not going to do her the disservice of letting … his hatred swallow us up,” Webb said.

"It’s something everybody needs to think about seriously,” Rocha said.

Webb’s sister’s killer will be in court on Friday in Orange County.

If passed, Prop 66 would also allow California to house death penalty inmates in other prisons outside of San Quentin.

Laci Peterson's family takes stake in California's death penalty debate
Sami Gallegos, KXTV


Sharon Rocha, the mother of Laci Peterson, spoke out Thursday in Modesto, Calif., on the state death penalty propositions – 62 and 66. Laci Peterson, and her unborn son, Conner, were killed by Scott Peterson, who sits on San Quentin's Death Row. Rocha, Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson and Laura Krieg, Tuolumne County District Attorney, urged voters to vote No on 62 and Yes on 66.

California hasn't executed a death penalty inmate in more than a decade

Whether or not you're in favor of capital punishment, both sides of the debate say the system is flawed.

Two competing ballot measures going before voters this year offer distinct solutions -- repeal the death penalty, or approve an attempt to shorten the process. The latter measure, Prop. 66, speeds up the process by amending statues that allow for legal challenges, which cause California's backlog of death row executions. 

The nonpartisan Legislative Analysts Office found that accelerating the process with Prop. 66 would hit state courts with tens of millions of dollars in yearly costs, but it might also save the state prisons tens of millions of dollars each year.

Death penalty sentences can be challenged either by a direct appeal or a habeas corpus petition.

Since the death penalty became California law in 1978, 930 people have received the sentence, 15 have been executed and 103 have died while behind bars. Courts have reduced 64 sentences. 

  1. Require habeas corpus petitions first be heard in the trial courts
  2. Place time limits on legal challenges to death sentences
  3. Change the process for appointing attorneys to represent condemned inmates
  4. Make various other changes.
Modesto murderer Scott Peterson is one of the 748 death row inmates currently in state prison. In 2002, Peterson was convicted in 2004 for the murder of his wife, Laci, and their unborn son, Conner.   

"Scott Peterson murdered my daughter and his unborn child," Laci's mom Sharon Rocha said during a Thursday press conference urging the public to pass Prop. 66. 

Rocha and members of law enforcement were also pushing for a 'No' vote on the measure to repeal the death penalty, Prop. 62. Rocha said there is a possibility Peterson could be released on parole if 62 passes and his sentence is reverted to a life in prison. 

"He is there for a reason," Rocha said. 

Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson took a strong stand against the repeal measure, saying it would deny victims' families justice.

"Why are we allowing the killers to continue to live their life -- all be it in prison -- or, as was previously mentioned, even the remote possibility of getting out because the proponents want to repeal the death penalty," Christianson said. "It's time for California and its citizens to stand up for justice. Justice for our victims." 

If voters approve both measures, the initiative with the most votes becomes law. 

A statewide poll conducted by the CALSPEAKS Opinion Research Center at Sacramento State found Prop. 62 was the only measure on the ballot a majority of people did not support. It fell into the survey's margin of error, while 'Yes' on Prop. 66 was up 51-20.

Copyright 2016 KXTV

October 27, 2016 4:42 PM
Scott Peterson deserves death for ’02 double murder, mother-in-law says

By Garth Stapley


Tuolumne County Sheriff Jim Mele speaks as local law enforcement officials gathered to encourage people to vote for Prop 66 in Modesto, Calif., on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016. Andy Alfaro aalfaro@modbee.com
With misty eyes and firm resolve, Laci Peterson’s mother stood before news cameras in Modesto once again to remind people what it means to lose loved ones at the hands of a killer.

“I support the death penalty because some crimes just warrant the death penalty,” Sharon Rocha said Thursday, less than two weeks before a statewide election that could decide whether capital punishment is abolished or expedited in California. She and a roomful of authorities hope voters reject Proposition 62 and embrace Proposition 66.

Scott Peterson murdered my daughter and his unborn child. He is (on death row) for a reason.
Sharon Rocha, Laci Peterson’s mother

“Scott Peterson murdered my daughter and his unborn child,” Rocha, 64, said of her son-in-law, who’s on death row. “He is there for a reason.”

Three days before Thursday’s press conference, Scott Peterson turned 44. He arrived at San Quentin 11 years ago, after a blockbuster trial that convinced jurors he killed his pregnant wife just before Christmas 2002 and dumped her in San Francisco Bay, where the bodies of mother and fetus washed up four months later.

As with all of California’s 749 death row inmates, Peterson has appealed and awaits his turn before the state Supreme Court. But challenges of lethal-injection protocol have stalled executions in this state, where no inmate has been put to death since 2006.

The ineffectiveness has polarized opinions and prompted the rival initiatives. Proposition 62 supporters say commuting death sentences to life in prison is more humane, less costly and eliminates the risk of executing innocent people accused in error, while Proposition 66 advocates say the death penalty is a deterrent and faster executions would save taxpayer money.

If both pass, the one with more votes will prevail. 

We need to amend, not end, the death penalty.
Laura Krieg, Tuolumne County district attorney

The latest Field Poll suggests both are struggling to capture majority support among likely voters. With only days left to sway large numbers of undecideds, both sides are pouring big money into ad campaigns.

Proposition 66 supporters on Thursday brought out Rocha as well as Laci Peterson’s close friend, Stacey Boyers, flanked by sheriffs and district attorneys from four counties – Stanislaus, Merced, San Joaquin and Tuolumne.

“We will always stand with victims of crime,” Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson said. “It’s time to stand up for justice.”

Birgit Fladager led the team that prosecuted Scott Peterson before being elected Stanislaus County’s district attorney in 2006. Since then, her office three times has secured life-sentence pleas, without going through costly trials: Columbus Allen Jr. II, who murdered California Highway Patrol Officer Earl Scott in 2006; Jesse Frost, who knifed to death his mother, sister and brother-in-law in Riverbank in 2009; and Cameron Terhune, who shot his parents in Del Rio in 2010. None would have bargained, Fladager said, without the threat of a possible death penalty hanging over their heads.

In 1999, Jim Mele – now Tuolumne County sheriff – helped investigate the slayings of three Yosemite sightseers in another crime that captured headlines across the United States and beyond, ending with a death sentence for Cary Stayner.

“We’re talking about a man who is evil, who needs to be put to death,” Mele said.

Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke urged voters to “have faith that what we’re talking about is the right thing to do.”

Of anywhere in California, support for Proposition 66 is strongest in the conservative-leaning Central Valley, said the mid-September Field Poll conducted by Field Research Corp. and the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley. And nowhere was there less support for Proposition 62 than here, the poll found.

But the reverse was true for voters throughout all of California, where the poll found only 35 percent inclined to vote for Proposition 66 compared to 48 percent who liked Proposition 62.
Latest disclosures show $5 million raised in support of Proposition 66, and $7.3 million for Proposition 62, according to The Sacramento Bee. Opponents of the measures had collected $1.5 million to fight Proposition 66, and $13.7 million to oppose Proposition 62.

Four years ago, California voters narrowly rejected a similar drive to abolish the death penalty, but polls suggest support has eroded in recent years.

It’s about justice, a local jury saying, ‘This is appropriate for this person.’
Mike Harden, former Modesto police chief

“It’s about justice, a local jury saying, ‘This is appropriate for this person,’  ” said Mike Harden, former police chief in Modesto and Oakdale.

In the first few years after her daughter’s murder, Rocha advocated for victims’ rights and stiff penalties for killers, and was an invited guest when President George W. Bush signed related legislation in 2004. With the passage of time, she’s still willing to make appearances for the right cause, but it can be difficult, she said after cameras were turned off Thursday.

“Going back to 2002, to bring it all up again, is not an easy thing to do,” Rocha said. 

“Before all of this, I never spoke in public,” she continued. “Laci probably would be saying, ‘My mother is doing what?’ It makes a difference when you have a purpose.”

Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390

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Laci Peterson's mom, others speak out on death penalty propositions

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