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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

As California looks to expand death row, a flap over where to build it

If Methodist pastor Liza Klein had her way, no one would be executed in the US again. But for the moment, she has another goal: keeping California's death row in her own backyard.

Despite the estimated $400 million price tag for its expansion, Ms. Klein and other death-penalty opponents want the death row to stay at San Quentin State Prison because its location next to San Francisco provides easier access to lawyers, family members, and activists.

"Even if we have the death penalty, we can stand up for some form of humane treatment for these people," says Klein, who lives in Marin County, one of the most liberal counties in the country.

Local politicians see things differently. They're pushing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) to move at least some of the death-row prisoners away from the county, perhaps to desert prisons that are hours from the state's largest cities.

The debate is pitting liberals against liberals and shining a light on California's hundreds of death-row inmates, who are more likely to die of natural causes than face the gas chamber or lethal injection.

San Quentin Prison, built in 1852, sits on the water just north of San Francisco, about 20 minutes by car from the Golden Gate Bridge. Currently, 635 men await execution behind the Gothic turrets of the prison's castle-like buildings.

"Even if we have the death penalty, we can stand up for some form of humane treatment for these people," says Klein, who lives in Marin County, one of the most liberal counties in the country.

Local politicians see things differently. They're pushing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) to move at least some of the death-row prisoners away from the county, perhaps to desert prisons that are hours from the state's largest cities.

The debate is pitting liberals against liberals and shining a light on California's hundreds of death-row inmates, who are more likely to die of natural causes than face the gas chamber or lethal injection.

San Quentin Prison, built in 1852, sits on the water just north of San Francisco, about 20 minutes by car from the Golden Gate Bridge. Currently, 635 men await execution behind the Gothic turrets of the prison's castle-like buildings. [Mark Godsey]

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