Skip to content

Prop 34 may affect double homicide trial in Martinez

on November 2, 2012

When California citizens vote next week on Proposition 34, they could be holding the life of accused murderer Nathaniel Burris in their hands.

Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty against Burris, whose high-profile trial for a 2009 double-homicide at the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge started in Martinez this week. Prop 34, which would abolish capital punishment in California, would remove that option.

If Prop 34 passes, the 725 people on California’s death row – the largest in the country – will no longer be “dead men walking.” Their sentences will be replaced with life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Eighteen of those men are from Contra Costa County. Five of them were prosecuted by Senior Deputy District Attorney Harold Jewett, who is leading the case against Burris.

“At the end of the day, for me at least, it is enough that a person who does something horrible is for all time and forever condemned by a jury of his peers,” Jewett said.

Jewett would not comment on his case against Burris or why he’s pursuing capital punishment. But he said that those who have been judged should have their sentences carried out.

In a strange twist, this week the family of Burris’ victims, Deborah Ross and Ersie Everette Jr. approached Jewett after court and asked him not to seek the death penalty. They said they would like to see Burris locked up for the rest of his life, instead of giving him what he wants — death. Burris has been asking for the death penalty since his arrest in 2009.

Bishop Edwina Perez-Santiago, a local faith leader who works with women coming home from prison and supports Prop 34, first started visiting men on death row more than 20 years ago. She had been on TV talking about her outreach to formerly incarcerated women and soon afterward a death row inmate who saw the show called her. On New Year’s Day 1991 she walked into San Quentin for the first time.

“I was shaking the whole time walking out of there,” Perez-Santiago said.

Visiting death row doesn’t affect her nerves as much now, but she says she never wants to see any of those men out of prison. That’s not to say she wants them to die at the state’s hand. Perez-Santiago said she wants the death sentence replaced with life in prison.

“I say to [death row inmates] openly and honestly, ‘I think you should do your time,’” Perez-Santiago said. “’And I don’t think you should ever get out.’”

Prison and the death penalty aren’t deterring anyone from committing a crime, Perez-Santiago said, and abolishing the death penalty won’t solve anything. Instead, she said there needs to be more services to prevent the crimes in the first place — which is what her nonprofit is doing in North Richmond. Reach Fellowship works specifically with women coming home from jail or prison and helps them find housing, parenting classes, education, job support, or whatever else a woman might need.

“It’s got to be the community and the prison system coming together,” she said.

If approved, Prop 34 would commit $30 million a year for three years to fund efforts to solve homicide and rape cases. The money would come from closing three state agencies that handle expensive appeals for death penalty cases, according to SAFE California. Prop 34 advocates also say it would save California taxpayers $130 million each year without releasing a single prisoner.

Jewett said he doesn’t buy the savings. He says it’s ironic that Prop 34 advocates say they would save the state money when they are  the ones holding up capital cases with multiple appeals and legal action. Some of the men prosecuted by Jewett have been on death row for decades because of opposition to lethal injection, he said.

“The costs I’m talking about are not the costs of maintaining someone in prison,” Jewett said. “It’s the lawyers’ costs. It’s the court costs. It’s the costs associated with litigation … The irony is that [Prop 34 advocates] are the ones responsible for creating those costs.”

But whatever California voters decide in the election next week, Jewett said he will respect it.

“If a majority of the people in this state say they don’t want the death penalty, that’s their decision and I’m OK with that,” he said. “I will always believe that there is a measure of justice in condemnation, whether or not the sentence is ever carried out.”

Jennifer Baires contributed to this article.


  1. Chris Bernstien on November 4, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    Prop. 34 proponents are perpetuating a huge FRAUD against California voters, knowing that with the millions of out-of-state dollars they can repeat their lies enough times that voters will begin to accept them. A Study by Judicial Watch concludes that Prop. 34 is “both disingenuous and deceptive.” Three former CA governors and every major law enforcement group in CA OPPOSE Pro. 34.

    Pro. 34 is dangerous, will cost taxpayers more, and was poorly thought through.

    Prop. 34 will NOT save money, but instead COST TAXPAYERS BILLIONS of dollars more in additional trials, prison changes, and escalating health care costs.

    Claims that Prop. 34 will save money are based upon a paper written by a former judge who has been advocating for abolishing the death penalty for decades (neither unbiased nor accurate). A review of these numbers by the Legislative Analyst’s Office concludes that the assumptions supporting these claimed savings “may well be wrong.” Michael Genest, former State Of California Finance Director, found that these “savings claims are grossly exaggerated.” Also, the loss of the threat of the death penalty will substantially increase the total number of murder trials by taking away a major incentive for murderers to plead guilty.

    Prop. 34 ignores the escalating costs of medical care for life-time inmates. Prop. 34 will cost CA taxpayers billions more over the next several years. (It is these huge medical costs that are fueling the attack on life sentences under 3-strikes under Prop. 36.)

    Prop. 34 is DANGEROUS. Experts conclude that Pro. 34 will increase the number of murders in California. Criminals will be more brazen in their crimes without the death penalty. Also, there will be no deterrent for the 34,000 inmates already serving life from killing a guard or an inmate. They are already serving the maximum penalty.

    One of the key methods for “saving” money under Prop. 34 is to move death row inmates into the general population and house them from single-person cells with other inmates. One strong proponent of Prop. 34 admits this is unworkable– the risk of danger posed by mixing the prison population is too great, and would increase costs associated with such an arrangement.

    Life without parole is means they WILL GET OUT. Efforts are already being pursued by the same people supporting anti-punishment ballots and legislation to get rid of life sentences. (Human Rights Watch, Old Behind Bars, 2012.) On 9/30/12, Brown passed the first step, signing a bill to allow 309 inmates with life sentences for murder to be paroled after serving 25 years. Someone who has committed a brutal murder at age 20 could get out by age 45! Remember Charles Manson and Sirhan Sirhan. Governors are also notorious for releasing inmates who should never be released. Convicted killers get out and kill again, such as Darryl Thomas Kemp, Kenneth Allen McDuff, and Bennie Demps.

    ARGUMENTS OF INNOCENCE BOGUS. Proponents can’t identify one innocent person executed in CA. They can’t identify one person on CA’s death row who has exhausted his appeals and has a plausible claim of innocence. Quite simply, CA’s appellate process, designed by the very same people promoting Prop. 34, is 100% effective in weeding out the innocent. Every person Prop. 34 proponents refer to are either non-death-penalty cases or out-of-state cases where defendants do not get the benefit of CA’s appellate process.

    Don’t get fooled by the bombardment of lies. See cadeathpenalty.webs. com/ and voteno34. org for more facts explaining why you should NOT SUPPORT Prop. 34.

Richmond Confidential welcomes comments from our readers, but we ask users to keep all discussion civil and on-topic. Comments post automatically without review from our staff, but we reserve the right to delete material that is libelous, a personal attack, or spam. We request that commenters consistently use the same login name. Comments from the same user posted under multiple aliases may be deleted. Richmond Confidential assumes no liability for comments posted to the site and no endorsement is implied; commenters are solely responsible for their own content.

Card image cap
Richmond Confidential

Richmond Confidential is an online news service produced by the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism for, and about, the people of Richmond, California. Our goal is to produce professional and engaging journalism that is useful for the citizens of the city.

Please send news tips to

Latest Posts

Scroll To Top