Death Row Inmates Weigh in on Capital Punishment

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SAN QUENTIN -- If where you stand on an issue depends on where you sit ... when it comes to California’s Capital Punishment, 746 people sitting on death row stand to provide unparalleled perspective.

San Quentin State Penitentiary has the largest death row in the Western hemisphere, made up of five cell blocks of men sentenced to death for special circumstances murders. Not one inmate is scheduled to have that sentence carried out. But voters have the power to change all of that this Election Day.

“Gimme mines, I’ll go in front of everybody,” said inmate Jamar Tucker.

Tucker was convicted in 2005 for a deadly Los Angeles home invasion. He was awaiting trial for another murder when he killed his cellmate.

“I don’t regret nothing. It’s just a choice, I never did anything to innocent people,” said Tucker.

Tucker’s only question about the death penalty seems to be why it takes so long.

“What am I supposed to do for the rest of my life, just sit here? I’m ready to go,” said Tucker.

To understand these inmates' point of view, there are at least three basic things to know about California’s Death row.

The state hasn’t executed an inmate in more than 10 years, won’t start until a new lethal injection protocol has been approved, and even then, the average appeals process takes over 20 years.

In November, voters will decide whether to do something about that. Prop 66 would speed up the death penalty process, saying it’s possible to go from conviction to execution in 10 years.

Prop 62 to would abolish capital punishment and commute the sentences of current death row inmates to life in prison.

“They should execute us, stop playing, they put us in here for a reason, stop playing,” said Tucker.

We only had to go one cell over to get a different opinion.

“You can’t listen to the people that say 'kill us' that’s just crazy to me,” said Juwann Graham

Graham was convicted in 2006 for shooting and killing two people on a Riverside freeway. He claims they were trying to run him off the road.

Life in a cage may not seem like much of a life, but for some, it beats the alternative

“Of course I’m against it. Nobody wants to be executed,” said Paul Tuilepa.

Tuliepa was convicted in 1986 of a Long Beach armed robbery. He’s been going through appeals nearly 30 years. He rejects any proposal that would make that process faster.

“You’re dealing with people’s lives, you can’t speed things up, you gotta take all the time you need,” said Tuliepa.

Time is something that’s not in short supply.

William Dennis was convicted in 1988 in Santa Clara for killing his ex- wife and her unborn child. He says he’s only guilty of manslaughter, and should not be on death row. Nevertheless, he opposes the death penalty.

“It’s just a waste of money, and it doesn’t really solve anything, and California, as slow as it’s going, it’s not doing California people any good,” said Dennis.

Both Prop 62 and Prop 66 would require inmates to work to pay restitution to victims, however, Dennis points out a flaw in their plans.

“There’s only a handful of jobs and there’s 34 people for about five jobs,” Dennis said.

To fill their days, inmates find humor and hobbies where they can.

“I’m trying to write a book,” Anthony Wade said.

Wade was convicted in 2013 for admittedly raping, beating, stabbing and robbing an elderly woman in Orange County. He is one of the youngest people on death row. He has been waiting three years just to be assigned an appeals lawyer. The 31-year-old doesn’t believe he’ll be executed.

“At this point, it’s not like they’re going to execute you, most of these dudes been up here for like 30 years or something like that, so that’s not really my concern,” Wade said.

SEE MORE: FOX40 Goes Inside San Quentin

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It seems like every inmate FOX40 spoke with was evidence of what supporters of both of California’s capital punishment initiatives agree on, California’s death penalty is broken.

"They’ve side tracked me, I can’t get anything done in court, I’ve been here 33 years,” said Douglas Clark.

Even infamous inmates like Clark, one of the Sunset Strip killers, is more likely under the current system to die of old age, suicide or sickness than by execution.

“I’ve been waiting 38 months for the state supreme court to do something. I think they’re just waiting on their ass for me to die of old age,” said Charles Case.

Case was convicted in 1993 of a double murder robbery at a Sacramento bar. He maintains his innocence but is in favor of the death penalty.

“After 20 years in this place I’m more in favor of it than I’ve ever been in my life,” said Case.

He says overcrowding, like the type that’s led to this fifth San Quentin death row cell block being opened, is a reason he would rather speed up the appeals and execution process than abolish the death penalty.

“You give all these guys life without instead of giving them the death penalty, you give all the new guys life without, 10, 20 years from now you’re going to have 33 prisons loaded up with guys doing life without. What are you going to do with everyone else who’s stealing cars?” asked Case.

Yes, the inmates of San Quentin’s death row have incomparable insight into the death penalty debate, but while their stances are as diverse as they are, they have no say in the issue.

Instead, come November, what happens to them is up to voters.

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