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Caryl Chessman's death row ghost hovers over California as it votes on the death penalty

One reason Californians will be voting, again, about the death penalty, next month, is because of a man named Caryl Chessman. He was called the “Red Light Bandit,” and he was executed in 1960 for several crimes, but none of them was murder. The case was a harrowing one for California's governor, Pat Brown, and for his family, including his son, the future governor, a young Jerry Brown.

Ever since Chessman died, Californians have gone to war at the ballot box over the death penalty. This time, the choice is to speed it up, or abolish it altogether. The Brown family and Chessman’s case are the subject of Joseph Rodota’s new play “Chessman,” which opens this week at Sacramento’s B Street Theatre.

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