By James Clark
On Nov. 7, protesters from the Walk to Stop Executions rallied on the steps of the Santa Cruz courthouse. Local activists as well as walkers from Southern California gathered to protest the death penalty.
The 800-mile walk from San Diego to Sacramento features two principal walkers, who are joined by individuals walking between one and 10 miles, said Stefanie Faucher, the program director of Death Penalty Focus and one of the primary sponsors for the walk.
“The march is sponsored by four organizations: Death Penalty Focus, California People of Faith Working Against the Death Penalty, Amnesty International USA, and the American Civil Liberties Union,” said Jeff Ghelardi, one of the walkers.
“Though there has been a moratorium on executions for the past two years, we’re trying to keep it on the front burner and keep it moving,” Ghelardi said. “We want to be proactive and keep it in the public’s eye.”
Sixty-seven-year-old Jeff Ghelardi and 70-year-old Richard Carlburg, another walker, march north toward the state capital, stopping at 15 different counties along the way. At each county they meet on the courthouse steps with local activists to speak out against the death penalty.
“We usually have a protest or demonstration lasting 30 minutes to an hour,” Ghelardi said. “We have local speakers step forward and speak out against the death penalty. We seek to meet with the District Attorney wherever possible.”
“We bring former police officers who don’t believe that [the death penalty] is deterring crime,” Faucher said. “We also bring exonerated criminals who spent time behind bars for crimes they didn’t commit. A policy like the death penalty doesn’t allow for mistakes … Family members of murdered victims, who speak out against the death penalty, are brought to the rallies as well.”
“The protesters did not meet with the Santa Cruz District Attorney because he does not ask for the death penalty,” said Ghelardi, adding that “most of the people we meet along the way are not like that.”
Terry McCaffrey, the Northern California coordinator for one of the march’s sponsors, California People of Faith Working Against the Death Penalty, helped explain their opposition to the death penalty.
“When you analyze the actual issue, it costs a lot more to execute criminals than to hold them,” McCaffrey said. “We feel that the system adequately protects society and that you don’t need the death penalty. We also feel that it’s not a deterrent.”
Ghelardi further explained the rationale behind the protest. “On a practical level, there is no evidence that the death penalty discourages other murderers from committing their crimes. Also, for each death penalty case, $3.5 million is spent — compared to life without parole, which costs $1.5 million.”
He added that the current legal system was adequate, saying, “In the last 30 years there have been 3,500 people sentenced to life without parole and not one has been released or has escaped.”
Ghelardi explained why he is willing to walk the 800 miles in defiance of the death penalty.
“My story is a little different than some. When I was at San Diego College in 1959, I walked by a table with a bunch of petitions, talking about the notorious death penalty,” Ghelardi said. “I looked at it and seemed to know in my gut that the prospect of execution was the wrong thing to do. I started looking into it more and here I am now, having been involved in it for 48 years.”