January 19, 2006

Calif. death penalty moratorium bill stalls

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Two days after California
executed its oldest death row inmate, state lawmakers on
Thursday blocked a bill that would bar the state from carrying
out death sentences for two years.

The bill's Democratic author blamed Republicans for
stalling it in the state Assembly's Appropriations Committee
and said he would not abandon his proposed moratorium, which
would also allow a committee to investigate whether California
had sent innocent people to death row.

"Once we have 41 votes committed on the Assembly side,
we'll take another bill and bring it back," Assemblyman Paul
Koretz said in an interview. "It's a question of bringing it
back when we are best situated."

Koretz said the Assembly's Republican caucus pressured its
members on the committee to oppose his bill and convinced some
Democrats, who control the state Legislature, that their
support for the bill would be used against them.

"The Republican caucus decided to make it a big wedge
issue," Koretz said.

New Jersey lawmakers earlier this month backed a moratorium
on the death penalty, becoming the first state legislature to
suspend the practice since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated
capital punishment in 1976.

California Assemblyman Todd Spitzer, a Republican who
witnessed Tuesday's execution of 76-year-old murderer Clarence
Ray Allen in California's death chamber at San Quentin prison,
said Koretz and supporters of his bill failed to make the case
that wrongly convicted inmates could be executed.

"I think the author of the bill failed to meet the burden
of proof in putting forth his legislation," Spitzer said. "If
there has been any evidence of unlawful convictions, those
would have been overturned on appeal."

California's next execution is scheduled for February 21.
The condemned man is Michael Angelo Morales, 46, who was
convicted of the brutal murder of a 17-year-old girl in 1981.