Death penalty supporters claimed victory this morning in their fight to retain capital punishment in California, saying voters simply weren't willing to scrap the penalty as an option for prosecutors.
With 98.5 percent of the votes counted, Proposition 34 was trailing, with 53 percent of voters opposed to the measure and 47 percent in support.
Those results closely matched a final Field Poll released last week, and death penalty supporters noted the measure had never topped 50 percent in the polls in the days leading up to the election.
"On the 'no' side, we were outspent 25 to 1," said Peter DeMarco, a spokesman for death penalty supporters. "They spent $7 million to our $300,000."
Proposition 34, funded and coordinated by the American Civil Liberties Union, would have eliminated the death penalty and converted all 726 existing death sentences to life in prison without possibility of parole. Supporters claimed the death penalty has proven to be a waste of taxpayer funds in California, where only 13 executions have been carried out since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978.
Supporters of Proposition 34 contended that doing away with the death penalty would save the state up to $130 million a year, but prosecutors and law enforcement groups fought back fiercely, saying the costs and the delays in carrying out the sentences were caused by death penalty opponents like the ACLU.
The measure was one of two on Tuesday's ballot that would have changed California's criminal justice system. The other, a reform to the state's three strikes law, passed easily with 69 percent of the vote.
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