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Gov. Newsom to order halt to California’s death penalty
Bob Egelko and Alexei KoseffMarch 12, 2019 Updated: March 13, 2019 11:45 a.m.
San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, Calif. The California prison system's chief psychiatrist has accused the state of misleading the courts on mental health care in the prisons. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)
Photo: Eric Risberg / Associated Press
Gov. Gavin Newsom is suspending the death penalty in California, calling it discriminatory and immoral, and is granting reprieves to the 737 condemned inmates on the nation’s largest Death Row.
“I do not believe that a civilized society can claim to be a leader in the world as long as its government continues to sanction the premeditated and discriminatory execution of its people,” Newsom said in a statement accompanying an executive order, to be issued Wednesday, declaring a moratorium on capital punishment in the state. “The death penalty is inconsistent with our bedrock values and strikes at the very heart of what it means to be a Californian.”
He plans to order an immediate shutdown of the death chamber at San Quentin State Prison, where the last execution was carried out in 2006. Newsom is also withdrawing California’s recently revised procedures for executions by lethal injection, ending — at least for now — the struggle by prison officials for more than a decade to devise procedures that would pass muster in federal court by minimizing the risk of a botched and painful execution.
His actions, disclosed to The Chronicle by an administration source late Tuesday, come in the wake of a pair of close but unsuccessful efforts by death penalty opponents to repeal the state law at the ballot box. The initiatives, both endorsed by Newsom, garnered 48 percent of the vote in 2012 and 47 percent four years later, when supporters of capital punishment won passage of a rival initiative aimed at speeding up executions. While that measure has reduced review of the execution process in state courts, California’s lethal-injection procedures are still being scrutinized in federal court.
The governor lacks authority to change the state death penalty law, which was enacted by the voters in 1978 and can be repealed only at the ballot box.
Newsom, elected to a four-year term last November, did not say whether he would support another repeal initiative in 2020. But he said he would grant reprieves to anyone sentenced to death while he holds office.
FILE - This Sept. 21, 2010, file photo shows the death chamber of the new lethal injection facility at San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, Calif. California is set to release, Friday Nov. 6, 2015, plans to use a single drug to execute condemned prisoners instead of the three drugs that were used in 2006 to execute condemned prisoners. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)
Photo: Eric Risberg / Associated Press 2010
“The intentional killing of another person is wrong,” he said. “And, as governor, I will not oversee the execution of any individual.”
Michele Hanisee, president of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys, criticized Newsom’s decision.
“The voters of the state of California support the death penalty,” she said. “That is powerfully demonstrated by their approval of Proposition 66 in 2016 to ensure the death penalty is implemented, and their rejection of measures to end the death penalty in 2016 and 2006. Gov. Newsom ... is usurping the expressed will of California voters.”
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The announcement appears to contradict Newsom’s public position during his campaign for governor. When The Chronicle asked candidates for their views on the death penalty, Dan Newman, a spokesman for then-Lt. Gov. Newsom, cited his long-standing opposition to capital punishment. But he added that Newsom “recognizes that California voters have spoken on the issue and, if elected governor, he’d respect the will of the electorate by following and implementing the law.”
The governor’s statement lays out the case against the death penalty as biased, costly and pointless. While the state has spent $5 billion on trying, convicting, imprisoning and executing Death Row inmates since voters approved the current law in 1978, Newsom said, there is no evidence that the death penalty deters murder, and there has been no increase in homicides in states that ended capital punishment.
The death penalty has also “discriminated against defendants who are mentally ill, black and brown, or can’t afford expensive legal representation,” Newsom said. He said more than three-fifths of Califorina’s Death Row inmates are people of color, while studies have shown that those convicted of killing whites are far more likely to be sentenced to death than killers of blacks or Latinos.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said he will declare a moratorium on California’s death penalty Wednesday, March 13, 2019, and grant reprieves to 737 condemned prisoners on the nation’s largest Death Row. The move comes more than two years after the state’s voters rejected an initiative to abolish capital punishment. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
Photo: Rich Pedroncelli / AP
“But most of all, the death penalty is absolute, irreversible and irreparable in the event of human error,” Newsom said. He noted that 164 condemned prisoners nationwide, including five in California, have been freed from Death Row since 1973 based on evidence that they were wrongfully convicted or sentenced.
The reprieves granted by Newsom are temporary orders, in effect during his governorship, as opposed to executive clemency that would reduce an inmate’s sentence to life in prison without parole. Clemency for any inmate with two or more felony convictions would require approval from a majority of the state Supreme Court.
Gavin "Cokehead Adulterer who slept with his best friend's wife" Newsom just put a stop to death penalties in California as though we didn't already have an issue with crime here.
The smug prick even acknowledged it's against the will of voters but said that the law as it is written in CA gives him the power to do it.