"When a person commits a murder like that, the only fair, just, and appropriate penalty is a penalty of death," says Deputy District Attorney Arthur Norris. He spoke about a death penalty case he tried where 90-year-old Thelma Long was beaten to death with a baseball bat in 2007. Her killer, Timothy Rodriguez, was sentenced to death two years ago.
“It was a nightmare," Norris says. “There was blood everywhere. Thelma was leaned up against a counter, and you can tell by the blood spatter pattern that Timothy Rodriguez had continued swinging that bat over and over while she was down. She was a 90-year-old woman, and he's doing this stuff to her. I mean who does that?"
Norris along with Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood and District Attorney Lisa Green met in downtown Bakersfield Tuesday to urge voters not to support Proposition 34.
“Prop. 34 is a corrupt proposal that puts my officers in jeopardy and short changes crime victims,” Sheriff Youngblood says. “Don't you think when a suspect rapes or murders a child that the suspect should get the ultimate penalty?”
Prop. 34 would abolish the death penalty, making the maximum sentence for people guilty of murder, life in prison without the possibility of parole. There are 22 people from Kern County currently on death row.
Vincent Brothers is one of them. The former school vice principal was convicted of killing his wife, their three children, and his mother-in-law in their southeast Bakersfield home in 2003.
"Very emotional case for a lot of people who knew the Harper family,” Green says. “Over 2,000 people attended the funeral.”
Supporters of Prop. 34 say the death penalty is too expensive and ineffective.
“At some point, you just think having the penalty isn’t worth the cost because, in effect, we have a death penalty where a lot of people are sentenced to it, but very few people get executed,” says Michael Lukehart, a criminal defense attorney in Bakersfield. "In my entire legal career, I’ve been watching people trying to make the death penalty quicker and more efficient, and all they've succeeded in doing is build layer upon layer upon layer of delay in the system."
Lukehart says each death penalty case can run into seven figures easily.
While those against the proposition say it could save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
"It’s not been proven actually when the proponents talk about cost that it costs more to impose the death penalty,” Green says. “There's no reliable study that says that."
Lukehart says, “When you start adding the defense cost, the prosecution cost, the court cost and the costs to the law enforcement budgets that they devote extra resources to the death penalty, it’s expensive.”
According to Proposition 34, about $1 million will be funneled into a fund for law enforcement to investigate cold cases, but Green says that money would come from the general fund where there isn't any money.
"The system is definitely broken, and, in that sense, it has failed,” she says. “But it can be fixed, and there are people working to fix it. So instead of totally abolishing it, people should get together and fix it."