Message from Chairman of the Board

Robert M. Sanger, Chair of the Board of Directors, Death Penalty Focus

DPF Chair Report – Focus

Dear Death Penalty Focus Friends and Supporters,

This March, I was elected to serve as the Chair of the Board of Directors for Death Penalty Focus. Over the last thirty years, past Board Chairs Mike Farrell (still our President Emeritus), Steve Rohde (still a Vice-Chair), and, most recently, Speedy Rice have left a legacy of stewardship over the Death Penalty Focus organization. For some reason, I was entrusted to fill the Chair’s current position and am working to justify that trust.

Executive Director Nancy Haydt and longtime staff member Yoko Otani-Spurlin have been working tirelessly to keep operations fully active in otherwise challenging times. Yoko, Nancy, and the Board have been coordinating efforts with our various committees to move DPF forward toward abolition of the death penalty in California. Our efforts include a renewed emphasis on DPF’s role to educate and provide public information on the death penalty through The FOCUS and website improvements. Also, we maintain our tradition of recognizing and honoring those around the country who have done so much for abolition. (See the interview in this issue with longtime death penalty scholar and activist Mike Radelet). Most significantly, our efforts, as staff, officers, and a Board, are focused on the course that will take us to abolition.

We are at a unique point in history. Governor Newsom has placed a moratorium on executions, granting death row prisoners in California a reprieve that will last at least as long as he is in office. The Governor ordered the California Department of Corrections to dismantle the unused execution chamber at San Quentin, which cost more than a million dollars to remodel. Progressive District Attorneys and D.A. candidates are openly rejecting capital prosecutions in some counties. Polls show that public approval of the death penalty is waning. Now, the economic crisis brought on by the COVID19 pandemic makes palpable the waste of resources attendant to an immoral and ineffective process.

There are still over 700 men and women on death row in California, and there are still capital murder cases in trial or scheduled to begin trial as soon as juries can be convened. The California Attorney General’s Office has been relentless in pursuing confirmation of death sentences in the state Supreme Court, the federal courts, and in the County Courts. The expense to place people on death row and to keep them there is jaw-dropping. All of this is occurring while an increasing number of citizens reject the death penalty as an anachronism which is imposed disproportionately on people of color, the poor, those who were abused and neglected as children, and those with mental disabilities.

I am proud to join with the staff and Board of DPF in our effort to bring the death penalty to an end. We remain committed to bringing you relevant and current information about capital punishment in this country, and our efforts to bring this practice to an end in California. We remain committed to bringing relevant and current information on capital punishment in this country and committed to bring the death penalty to an end in California.