Rare look inside San Quentin Prison, home of death row

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016
Rare look inside San Quentin Prison, home of death row
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In just three months, voters have the chance to abolish the death penalty in California or speed up the process.

SAN QUENTIN, Calif. (KGO) -- In just three months, voters have the chance to abolish the death penalty in California or speed up the process. With interest running high on the issue, San Quentin State Prison, home to the state's only death row, opened up and let ABC7 I-Team Reporter Dan Noyes and our cameras in for a rare look inside.

The first impression one gets of San Quentin is how old the place is. Much of it was built 100 years ago and there's nothing automatic about it. Each cell has to be locked or unlocked by hand.

Within the different housing units -- North Segregation, East Block, Donner, and The Adjustment Center -- there are 725 murderers, cop killers, child killers and serial killers.

Joe Naso was convicted of killing three women in a Marin County trial three years ago. He's suspected of killing many more.

Noyes: "How many people did you kill"

Naso: "How many did you?"

Noyes: "That's easy, none. How about you?"

He says he didn't kill anybody.

ABC7 News I-Team Reporter Dan Noyes speaks to convicted killer Joe Naso at San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, Calif. on Monday, August 15, 2016.

The man who murdered 12-year-old Polly Klaas, Richard Allen Davis, refused to speak with us even though he's been writing letters to the ABC7 I-Team's Dan Noyes for more than a year.

Perhaps the most infamous inmate at San Quentin is Scott Peterson. He usually works out in an enclosed exercise yard but he chose to stay inside his cell today to avoid the media.

To be able to speak to the inmates, Dan Noyes had to wear an anti-stab vest for protection against prison shanks.

He was also required to sign a waiver -- the prison will not negotiate over hostages, if he were to be taken.

Another inmate described what life is like at San Quentin.

"Very minimal human contact, conditions-not that good," convicted double murderer Mila Johnson said.

Many inmates were happy to talk about their lives behind bars at the oldest prison in California.

Some wanted to discuss their cases and how long they've been on death row.

William Dennis said he's been there for "28 years all together." He was convicted of killing his ex-wife.

Asked whether the death penalty should be abolished or if executions should be sped up, he said, "I think that it's a big waste of money to have the death penalty and to try to speed it up is going to cost even more to do that."

As it stands now, inmates have a better chance of dying from natural causes or suicide. There hasn't been an execution in 10 years because of challenges to California's execution protocol -- the cocktail of drugs they use to kill a condemned man or woman.

Jamar Tucker is on death row for killing three men. He told Dan Noyes, "Man, I'm wrong and this what I got coming to me. Give it to me. Don't sit me, have me sitting on the shelf 20 and 30 years. You told me you're were going to kill me. Kill me already."

California's death row for women is at Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla, with just 21 inmates awaiting execution.

Everyone is interested in what happens in November when voters get to decide on the future of the death penalty in California.

Facts about San Quentin:

  • San Quentin was established in July 1852.
  • It started on 20 acres of land purchased for $10,000.00.
  • It was built by inmates who slept on a prison ship called the Waban at night and worked on construction during daylight hours.
  • San Quentin was known as the "Bastille by the Bay".
  • It housed male and female inmates until 1933 when the women's prison at Tehachapi was built.
  • Today, the prison overlooks the bay on 432 acres located 12 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge.
  • The maximum security cell block is called the Adjustment Center.
  • Medical facilities are located in the Health Care Service Building.
  • The prison has a minimum security firehouse.
  • Visitors are allowed to see inmates on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays
  • Attorneys are allowed to meet with clients Monday through Thursday.
  • Condemned inmates can meet with their attorneys on Thursdays.
  • San Quentin is home to California's only gas chamber.
  • All of California's male death row inmates are located at San Quentin

Source: http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/Facilities_Locator/SQ.html