Voters May Decide Fate Of Calif. Death Penalty

Initiative Under Way To Put Abolishment Of State's Death Penalty On November Ballot

A ballot initiative that would do away with the death penalty in California is gaining momentum, organizers said Thursday.

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The California Innocence Project, an organization that has freed wrongly convicted inmates, is endorsing a petition drive started by the SAFE California Campaign to put the topic of abolishing the state's death penalty policy on the November ballot.

Herman Atkins, who served prison time for rape and robbery he didn't do, said, "DNA exonerated me and it was through Innocence Project New York."

California Western School of Law professor and head of the California Innocence Project Justin Brooks cited 140 innocent people taken off death row through the efforts of the project.

"If there isn't time to prove peoples' innocence, then we will execute innocent people here," said Brooks.

Surprisingly, the mother of one murder victim Danielle van Dam, Brenda van Dam, said she isn't sure how she might vote.

"I believe in an eye for an eye. I just don't feel that anything's going to happen in California as far as executing people on death row," she told 10News.

Danielle van Dam was kidnapped from her bedroom and found dead in 2002. David Westerfield, her Sabre Springs neighbor, was convicted of killing her and is now on death row at San Quentin State Prison.

"I do want the worst for him," van Dam said. "I feel he deserves it, and I feel he doesn't deserve to have lived as long as he did. It's been 10 years and nothing's been done."

Brenda van Dam has another thought -- Westerfield may find life a little tougher at San Quentin if the death penalty is repealed.

"If someone who murdered a young child was in general population, I think that would be a much scarier place for him to live," said van Dam.

There are 700 inmates on San Quentin's death row. Only 13 have been executed since 1992.

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