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SACRAMENTO — Criminal defense lawyers are accusing the California District Attorneys Association of trying to shut down a debate over a death penalty moratorium with its recent report upholding state executions. The California Public Defenders Association and California Attorneys for Criminal Justice didn’t mince words in their four-page response to the CDAA: “This ‘White Paper’ is a misleading attempt to discourage the ever increasing public attention to the question of whether or not the death penalty should be reconsidered because of major problems with the manner in which is it imposed.” The CDAA released its 118-page report, “Prosecutors’ Perspective on California’s Death Penalty,” on March 19. It said capital punishment in California is fair. The DAs’ paper was a response to death penalty opponents who have recently won support from local politicians for a moratorium on executions. The district attorneys say they do not believe a moratorium is needed. Death penalty opponents say California has many of the same problems as Illinois, where ex-Gov. George Ryan commuted all death row sentences in January. And, death penalty opponents say, California needs to scrutinize its system. To date, most of the discussion about capital punishment has stayed local. Gov. Gray Davis, the only person in the state with the power to impose a moratorium, has not swayed from his pro-death penalty stance. While Alameda County Assistant Public Defender Michael Ogul agreed that Davis wasn’t likely to be persuaded to impose a moratorium, “Davis is not going to be there forever.” Ogul, who is co-chair of the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice death penalty committee, worked on the defense response. According to Ogul and other defense attorneys, the CDAA’s paper is misleading because it skews the record of cases where people were freed from death row. “The truth is that reforms are needed to ensure that the innocent are not convicted and the real culprits are convicted,” the defense response says. CDAA interim Executive Director David LaBahn denied that the report mischaracterized California’s record. He also pointed out that the DAs’ paper only discussed cases frequently held up by death penalty opponents as evidence with problems with the system. Marin County Public Defender Joe Spaeth, who is president of the California Public Defenders Association, said he believes the CDAA’s attempt at a pre-emptive strike against a moratorium could backfire. “Because this CDAA white paper is so disingenuous, [death penalty opponents] might become more active,” Spaeth said. LaBahn took issue with defense claims that district attorneys were trying to shut down the debate. “We like the discussion,” LaBahn said. “I feel as though it’s a ball bouncing back and forth. Just as we felt that we needed to speak out, I’m sure they needed to say something after the release of our paper.” The defense attorneys’ response is available at www.cpda.org. The CDAA report is at www.cdaa.org.

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