After a federal judge declared that the death penalty was "unconstitutional" in the state of California Wednesday, family members of victims whose killers were on death row are in disbelief.
The ruling overturns the death sentence of Ernest Jones, who was convicted in 1995 of killing his girlfriend’s mother in Orange County. Of the 748 inmates on death row, more than 40 percent, like Jones, have been there for longer than 19 years. Tiquan Cox is one of those inmates.
Cox was sentenced to death for killing four members of ex-NFL player Kermit Alexander’s family in 1984. Two other members of the Crips gang were also involved and sentenced to life in prison for the death of Alexander’s 59-year-old mother, 24-year-old sister and two young nephews.
"I’m saddened by this, deeply saddened, because I thought we had reached a point in society that we could be held accountable," Alexander said of the ruling.
The Crips gang members targeted the wrong home and killed Alexander’s family in a hail of gun fire. Alexander said he was supposed to be having coffee with his mom that day, but overslept.
He misses his mother every day and keeps a portrait of her in his home, one that he says "hello and goodbye" to everyday.
"I don't want to sacrifice my life because I'm angry," Alexander said. "I have kids to raise, I have a wife to love, so I need to move on with my life no matter what happens in society."
Rodney Alcala was sentenced to death for killing one girl and four women in the 1970’s – one of those women being Jill Parenteau, a 21-year-old torture victim killed in 1979.
"She was a gentle, gentle young woman," her sister Dee Dee Parenteau said. "She had just moved out of the house six months prior to (her murder)."
Dee Dee Parenteau was unhappy to learn that the man guilty for her sister’s death may have gotten a reprieve.
"I think that they should know fear," Dee Dee Parenteau said. "I really believe, unfortunately, that most of them will die of old age, Alcala being one of them."
Only 13 inmates have been executed since 1992.
"I actually think that Alcala will never be executed just because there's so many on death row and it takes so long," Dee Dee Parenteau said.
US District Judge Cormac Carney called the death penalty process in California "dysfunctional" and said it amounted to “cruel and unusual punishment.”
- Read: SoCal Death Row Inmates
"He points out that the two points of the death penalty are to deter people and for retribution," Loyola Law School professor Lara Bazelon said. "How can someone be deterred if they know that the chances of them getting executed are so low? And retribution 25 years later isn't really the same thing."
The ruling could be overturned by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and possibly the U.S. Supreme Court. If it is upheld, it would overturn the decision by California residents who voted in favor of the death penalty in 2012.