Kamala Harris Defends Decision Not to Seek Death Penalty for Man Who Murdered Police Officer

January 24, 2019

Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) on Wednesday night defended her decision, made while she served as the San Francisco district attorney, not to seek the death penalty for a man who murdered a police officer in 2004.

Harris, who announced on Monday that she was running for president, appeared on MSNBC's "The Rachel Maddow Show" to discuss several issues, including the death penalty. Host Rachel Maddow mentioned Harris faced scrutiny in 2004 after she decided not to seek the death penalty in the prosecution a man convicted of killing San Francisco Police Officer Isaac Espinoza.

Maddow noted Harris was opposed to the death penalty at the time, and she asked the senator if she was still opposed.

"I've been my entire life, and I still am for very good reasons that I can expand on," Harris said.

A jury found the accused killer guilty of having intended to kill a police officer, of attempted murder for wounding Espinoza's partner, Officer Barry Parker, and of illegal use of a firearm for gang purposes. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Maddow, disclosing she was inclined to agree with Harris's view, asked if capitol punishment should be a topic of national debate.

"When you're running for president, now obviously you know that you'll face questions about that every time you run for office," Maddow said. "That will put the death penalty as an issue of national debate. The president is an enthusiastic proponent of the death penalty, with no qualms whatsoever."

"You versus Donald Trump and the death penalty would make that a central debate for the country. Would that be constructive or not?" Maddow asked.

Harris said that she believes it is a debate that Americans should have. She went on to call the death penalty "extremely flawed as a system."

"Back to the point of that case," Harris said, "I am going to tell you that there were ... high-level elected Democrats who said the case should be taken away from me because I would not seek the death penalty, but I did what I believed was the right thing to do. And the killer of that officer will be in prison for the rest of his life."

One of the high-level Democrats who supported the death penalty in the 2004 case was Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.), Harris's senior colleague in the Senate.