In 1977, my dad, former state Sen. John Briggs, my brother-in-law and I got together to discuss California's death penalty. We agreed it was ineffective and decided a ballot initiative was needed to expand the number of murder categories eligible for capital punishment. We felt such changes would give prosecutors better tools for meting out just punishments, and that a broadened statute would serve as a warning to all California evildoers that the state would deliver swift and final justice.
We thought we were creating a national model for capital punishment.
On a shoestring budget we collected more than 1 million signatures to put the proposition on the ballot. Half the signatures came via first-class business reply mail, which my wife, Kelly, and I manually processed. We didn't have laptops or self-adhesive stamps then, although we did have a bomb scanner, which we'd been trained to use by the FBI after they discovered a terrorist plot to kill my dad.
On Nov. 7, 1978, California voters passed the Briggs initiative on the death penalty. Back then, my future brother-in-law was Dad's district chief of staff and I proudly served as my father's personal aide. Today Dad is retired, my brother-in-law is a California Superior Court judge and I am in my second term as a county supervisor representing rural District IV in the county of El Dorado, east of Sacramento.
Recently, the three of us sat together under a rose trellis in the quiet cool of morning to talk politics. Each of us remains a staunch Republican conservative, but our perspectives on the death penalty have changed. We'd thought we would bring California savings and safety in dealing with convicted murderers. Instead, we contributed to a nightmarish system that coddles murderers and enriches lawyers. Our initiative was intended to bring about greater justice for murder victims. Never did we envision a multibillion-dollar industry that packs murderers onto death row for decades of extremely expensive incarceration. We thought we would empty death row, not triple its population.
Each of us, independently, has concluded that the death penalty isn't working for California.