In 1913, Jake Oppenheimer, Folsom’s 28th execution, called capital punishment “a relic of the barbaric age,” acknowledging, “I will not be the last to go before this practice is abolished, but I will be a martyr to the cause.” Abolishing the death penalty has been urged from various groups since the early 1900s.
In 1925, California Senator, Roy Fellom, introduced a bill to legislation to abolish capital punishment saying, “Let’s hope that this horrible spectacle of three men being executed in cold blood by the state of California will be the last of its kind and that the state will never again be subjected to witnessing anything so barbaric.” He had hoped to save the lives of #49, John Geregac and his accomplices by the passing of the bill, which of course, did not.
John “Smokey” Geregac
Many of Folsom’s 93 expressed their belief that their execution would be California’s last. #55, Ray Arnold said, “If they want to kill me, all right. I am ready to die. I would die gladly if I thought my death would aid in putting an end to capital punishment.”
Little did these men know that close to a hundred years later, the debate would be at a fever pitch—and that their own state would be the epicenter of it all. Executions in California have been halted since 2006 when a federal judge declared there to be flaws in the execution process. Come November, California voters will decide whether or not to eliminate the death penalty. According to a September 2011 poll, 48% Californians favor life imprisonment over execution. Right now, it doesn’t appear it’ll be a landslide either way.
According to Death Penalty Information Center there are currently 717 condemned prisoners in California. Across the country, 3, 251 folks are on death row. This op-ed piece, points out that abolishing the death penalty would save the state of California $100 million over three years, putting more police on the streets. It would also fund community programs, educate the prison population, and force those serving life without parole to work and pay restitution to the victims’ families.
It will certainly be the ballot to watch considering California has the highest number of death row inmates, Texas taking the #2 spot with 321. Where does your state rank?