May 19, 2016

Contact: Margot Friedman at 202-332-5550 or 202-330-9295 (c) or

Innocence Projects and Wrongfully Convicted Individuals Express Concern that Proposed Ballot Initiative will put California at Risk of Executing Innocent People

SACRAMENTO – Today, supporters of an initiative that seeks to radically alter death penalty procedures in California submitted signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The initiative, sponsored by district attorneys and with major financial funding from the prison guards’ union, received immediate opposition by innocence groups and individuals who were sent to prison for crimes they did not commit. Their concern: the initiative will greatly increase the risk that California executes an innocent person.

“California would be making a grave and irreversible mistake by approving this initiative. Texas, which this initiative is modeled after, continues to grapple with the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham who was put to death despite powerful scientific evidence undermining his guilt and mounting evidence of prosecutorial misconduct,” said Barry Scheck, Director of the Innocence Project in New York.

Since 1973, 156 people have been exonerated and freed from death row; three of them were in California, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Over four percent of people sentenced to death in the U.S. are innocent, according to a 2014 National Academy of Sciences Study.

“I am one of the more than 150 people wrongfully convicted and sent to death row for crimes we didn’t commit. I am living proof that our criminal justice system makes mistakes. This initiative will lead to the execution of innocent people just like me,” said Randy Steidl, death row exoneree and current Board President of Witness to Innocence.

“California’s legal process in death penalty cases exists for a reason: to make sure that innocent people aren’t executed. This measure guts these important protections by applying unrealistic and arbitrary timelines, greatly increasing the chance that we send an innocent person to the death chamber and allow a guilty person a free pass to victimize again,” said Alex Simpson, Associate Director of the California Innocence Project.

“I was 16 years old when I was sent to prison in California for a crime that I had nothing to do with. It took 20 years to prove my innocence, but I was able to because California law gave me a fighting chance. This initiative wants to gut those very protections so innocent people on death row won’t have the same chance to prove their innocence,” said Franky Carrillo who was exonerated in 2011 and serves on the Advisory Board of the Northern California Innocence Project.

“Today, innocence leaders and people like me who were wrongfully convicted call on all California voters to join us in ensuring we never execute an innocent person by opposing this terrible, poorly written and confusing ballot measure,” said Obie Anthony who was also exonerated in 2011 after spending 17 years in prison. Obie also serves on the Advisory Board of the Northern California Innocence Project.


Spokespeople available for interviews. Please contact Margot Friedman to schedule interviews at 202-332-5550.