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L.A. sheriff joins high-profile opponents fighting anti-death-penalty ballot measure

L.A. sheriff joins high-profile opponents fighting anti-death-penalty ballot measure
L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Top Los Angeles County officials including Sheriff Jim McDonnell and Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey have joined a November election battle, announcing support for preserving California's death penalty and reforming the state's appeals process.

The death penalty should be "for the worst of the worst," McDonnell said Monday night at an event dubbed, "Mend, Don't End California's Death Penalty."

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"We want to be in a position to be able to say that there is a disincentive for the most horrific of murders," McDonnell said.

Also speaking out at the event was Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens. The goal: opposing Proposition 62, which would abolish executions and replace them with life without parole, and supporting Proposition 66, which aims to speed up executions in California.

Voters will weigh the two competing measures on the Nov. 8 ballot. It wasn't clear what political or organizing muscle the law enforcement officials would put behind their stance on the propositions, which already have raised serious cash.

Both capital punishment initiatives would require current death row inmates to work and pay restitution to victims, but the measures take opposing approaches to what they both call a broken system. Proposition 66 would keep the death penalty, limiting the number of petitions prisoners can file to challenge their convictions and sentences, and providing new deadlines intended to expedite appeals.

Lacey cited the recent death sentence of the "Grim Sleeper" serial killer and said the death penalty should be reserved for the few cases involving "evil, reckless disregard for human life."

"I think that's a different category of evil," she said at the news conference Monday night in Monterey Park, "and the appropriate punishment is death."

One by one, high-profile opponents of the anti-death penalty propositions spoke, framed by large posters of victims and police officers who had been killed. They urged voters to support keeping the death penalty.

Los Angeles Police Department Chaplain Ferroll Robins, whose brother was shot and killed in Chesterfield Square in 2002, said the death penalty should be used for his killer.

"My family has to live without my brother," she said. "The only thing we have is a picture. I don't think that's fair."

The issue has sparked passionate debate, and not all county officials are on the same side.

Former Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti said in a statement to The Times that he had reversed his position on the death penalty because "it's a total waste of money and of no useful purpose."

"Every attempt to change the failed death penalty system over the past 40 years has made it worse and more expensive," he said. "Prop. 66 is no different."

Follow me on Twitter @journoshane.

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Times staff writer Jazmine Ulloa contributed to this report from Sacramento.

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