Propositions seek to address California's death penalty

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Phyllis Loya lost her son more than a decade ago. Pittsburg Police Officer Larry Lasater was shot pursuing two robbery suspects. One of them, Alexander Hamilton is on death row.

"And they were laughing at my son being killed. They were remarking how they ratatatatted other officers who tried to aid my dying son," said Loya.

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Dionne Wilson knows the same pain. Her husband Dan was on patrol in San Leandro when he was called to an apartment complex where a group of men were drinking outside. She says one of them, Irving Ramirez, was on probation and in possession of drugs and weapons.

"So instead of running, he pulled out one of his guns and he shot Dan seven times," said Wilson.

Ramirez is also on death row.

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But while they have much in common, Phyllis Loya and Dionne Wilson have found themselves on opposite sides of an emotional ballot battle over the death penalty.

There are 17 total propositions on the California ballot. Voters will face a stark choice for California's criminal justice system: either abolish the death penalty or make changes to streamline the process, and speed up the pace of executions.

Proposition 62 would abolish capital punishment in Californa, replacing it with a life sentence without parole -- retroactive for nearly 750 death row inmates.

The opposite, Prop 66, would attempt to speed the execution process, requiring that the state courts to hear appeals within five years - among other provisions.

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Loya has spent a decade tracking the case of her son's killer.

"Families like mine should not have to wait decades for justice. I won't live to see my son's killer executed, I know that, I'm 68 years old, I won't live to see that day happen," she said.

Wilson once pushed for the execution of her husband's killer as well, seeing her young daughter and son devastated by their father's death. But in the years that followed, she says she underwent a transformation some might find hard to understand.

"I thought that's what was going to heal me and then it quickly evaporated. And I realized that really wasn't the answer for me, I had to find my healing another way," said Wilson.

She began working as a volunteer, meeting with inmates at San Quentin and ultimately arguing against both the costs of the death penalty and how it's administered.

"If you are poor and black, you are six times more likely to receive a death sentence. And out of the fifteen counties in America that account for the death sentences handed out in America, five of those are in California," said Wilson.

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Loya believes Prop 66 will ensure a faster, fairer process and ultimately justice for victims.

If possible, she says she would witness the execution of her son's killer.

"Justice is the last business of my son's life. And that door will present closure," said Loya.

This will be the second time in four years that California voters have weighed in voting by a narrow margin in 2012 to keep the death penalty.

Written and produced by Tim Didion.

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