Donald J. Heller

The lethal injection room at San Quentin State Prison.

Debating the death penalty never gets old in the United States. Sometimes it cools off for a while, but if you wait long enough it always bubbles up again. These days it’s getting hot out here on the West Coast, where a ballot initiative aims to roll back the state’s death penalty and replace it with life without parole. The initiative would replace Proposition 7, passed in 1978, which made California’s death penalty law “among the toughest and most far-reaching in the country.”

At the center of the debate are two men — one of them a former prosecutor from New York — who helped pass the death penalty bill in California 30 years ago. Now they have completely changed their tune. What prompted this change of heart?

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