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The California District Attorneys Association fired back at death penalty opponents Wednesday with a report that says the ultimate punishment is meted out fairly in the state. It’s a direct response to activists who are using Illinois’ moratorium on executions to criticize capital punishment in other states, including California. Opponents say Gov. Gray Davis should impose a moratorium and figure out if the state has the same problems found elsewhere. Although Davis has resisted such a move and remained a death penalty proponent, the activists have been successful in recent months convincing some San Francisco Bay Area cities and counties to pass moratoriums against capital punishment. Those are mostly just for show — a board of supervisors, for example, has no power over an elected district attorney’s charging decisions — but prosecutors are worried the movement could spread to Sacramento. “As you are aware, the death penalty in recent years has been under relentless attack,” said CDAA executive director Lawrence Brown. “There is every reason to believe they’ll turn their sights on legislators in short order.” Wednesday, Brown took a Capitol press room podium flanked by a contingent of prosecutors, victim family members and other advocates. Assistant District Attorney James Anderson and Senior Deputy District Attorney Angela Backers drove up from Alameda County, where a majority on the Board of Supervisors just voted to back a moratorium. Backers said she was “proud” of how Alameda County handles its cases. She told of one recent victory, the convictions of James Anthony Daveggio and Michelle Michaud, using the same sort of gruesome details usually reserved for jurors. If Wednesday’s 118-page white paper seems like overkill on an issue that won’t go anywhere without the unlikely approval of Gov. Davis, consider that death penalty opponents have already opened a Sacramento, Calif., front. Death Penalty Focus, the San Francisco group that has led local moratorium efforts, is already in touch with state Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, who is chair of the Select Committee on the California Correctional System, said Lance Lindsey, executive director of the group. Romero’s committee, in turn, has had conversations with the office of former Illinois Gov. George Ryan — a Republican who instituted the moratorium in that state and commuted the sentences of all Illinois death row inmates prior to leaving office in January — and is interested in having him testify at an informational hearing on or about April 22. Ryan is scheduled to receive an award from Death Penalty Focus in Los Angeles around that time, according to Romero’s office. Lindsey said the CDAA’s release just proves that his group’s massive education effort has been successful — or else why would prosecutors bother to respond? “These are old, old pro-death penalty arguments that have essentially been dismissed in most quarters,” Lindsey said of the report. Titled “Prosecutors’ Perspective on California’s Death Penalty,” the CDAA paper gives a history of state capital punishment and directly addresses opponents’ criticisms. It also points out safeguards in the system and details the complicated appeals procedure. The report includes a section on “debunking common fallacies and misinformation.” Death Penalty Focus’ claim that studies showing the death penalty is not a deterrent “is simply false,” the report says. The report ends by turning the current debate on its head with a discussion about the length of time it takes to execute a prisoner “and what to do about it.” Indeed, Brown, of the CDAA, said he’d like to see California make changes so its cases qualify under the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which limits a prisoner’s federal appeals. A copy of the report is posted on the CDAA’s Web site at www.cdaa.org.

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