Gascón takes heat on death penalty stance from SF district attorney foe

Examiner file photoDEATH OR NOT? District Attorney George Gascón says avoiding death penalty prosecutions could put money back into local D.A.’s offices.

Examiner file photoDEATH OR NOT? District Attorney George Gascón says avoiding death penalty prosecutions could put money back into local D.A.’s offices.

District Attorney George Gascón’s stance on the death penalty came under fire Tuesday.

David Onek, who has pledged to forswear the death penalty if elected district attorney, has accused Gascón of flip-flopping on the issue.

Onek was referring to the latest issue of the Police Officers Association journal, in which the union endorsed Gascón for district attorney. Union President Gary Delagnes wrote that Gascón was “the only candidate interviewed that would keep the door open for a ‘death penalty’ option in cases involving a murder of a police officer.”

Gascón said earlier this year he would only seek the death penalty in “very heinous” cases. Yet at a recent debate before the Bar Association of San Francisco, the candidates were each asked whether they would support a blanket policy of not seeking death in any case in San Francisco, and all of them, including Gascón, answered yes.

The DA had previously refused to outline cases that he would consider heinous enough to seek the death penalty, but his office has already ruled it out this year in several charged cases. He also has stated that he is philosophically opposed to the death penalty and would support legislation to end it in California.

Onek said Tuesday that Gascón is trying to have it both ways.

“You can’t say one thing to one group and another thing to another group,” Onek said. “San Franciscans deserve better than that.”

Asked for comment, Gascón responded that he had been “misunderstood” by Delagnes.

“I never said that,” Gascón said. “What I told Gary is that I believe life without the possibility of parole is the better way for us to go.”

Gascón said he believed the money saved by avoiding expensive death penalty prosecutions could be better used by district attorney’s offices around the state “to improve their ability to go after people that have killed, and are still running around in the community.”

Delagnes said his recollection, and that of others at the meeting, was Gascón said he would “look at it on a case-by-case basis,” but would likely never find a jury here that would convict in a death penalty case.

All of the other candidates ruled out the death penalty outright, Delagnes said, leaving Gascón, the former police chief, as their endorsement.

“We were looking for someone who left the door open, and that’s what we thought we heard,” Delagnes said.

Gascón’s predecessor, Kamala Harris, was criticized by the police union for her decision not to seek the death penalty against David Hill, a gang member who fatally shot Officer Isaac Espinoza in 2004. Hill was later convicted of second-degree murder.

“I assure you that should such a tragic event occur while he is in office, we will hold him to that consideration,” Delagnes wrote.

aburack@sfexaminer.com

Bay Area NewsDavid OnekGeorge GasconLocal

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