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The death penalty and the missing girl

Chloe Beardsley reports for KION TV, Salinas, California:

MORGAN HILL, Calif. -- In the case of missing Morgan Hill teen Sierra LaMar [15], the man facing charges for kidnapping and murdering her isn't talking. One tactic investigators said they use in cases like this one, is the death penalty.

For example some investigators offer to pull the death penalty punishment off the table, in return for information, but a new ballot measure could eliminate that tactic completely.

"It would certainly remind a suspect during an interview it is a capital case, a person could possibly face the death penalty which might serve as an inducement to cooperate with law enforcement," said Dan Payne. 

The death penalty is the harshest sentence in the U.S. criminal system. Dan Payne is a former FBI investigator who used the threat of the death penalty as a way to get information from a suspect. In his experience it worked. It's the district attorney who makes the final decision but investigators use it as leverage. "They're trying to save their own life and they're certainly going to try to cooperate and be as helpful to law enforcement as they can if they can avoid being charged with the death penalty," said Payne.

The Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office isn't saying if any sort of deal is being offered to the man charged with murdering Sierra LaMar to get details out of him. "Her remains have not been recovered. Now whether he's told investigators this or not according to the Sheriff, he has not. So it can certainly be a bargaining chip to say we will not seek the death penalty if you would disclose the whereabouts of her remains," said Payne.

We reached out to the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and their affiliates in California. They didn't get back to us today for a comment. Right now there are a few hundred inmates on death row in California.

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