Newsom halts executions in California

California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks to members of the media at Long Beach Community College on Feb. 19. On March 13, Newsom announced that he will not enforce California’s death penalty, putting a moratorium on executions in the state.  (Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday signed an executive order that placed a moratorium on capital punishment in the state, halting executions for 737 inmates on California’s death row.

“The intentional killing of another person is wrong and as Governor, I will not oversee the execution of any individual,” Newsom said in a statement. “Our death penalty system has been, by all measures, a failure. It has discriminated against defendants who are mentally ill, black and brown, or can’t afford expensive legal representation. It has provided no public safety benefit or value as a deterrent. It has wasted billions of taxpayer dollars. Most of all, the death penalty is absolute. It’s irreversible and irreparable in the event of human error.”

The most recent execution in California was 76-year-old Clarence Ray Allen on Jan. 17, 2006. Allen was, and remains, the second-oldest inmate executed in the United States. Since Proposition 17 in 1972, which reinstated capital punishment months after being struck down, there have been only 13 executions; the first of which did not happen until 1992.

Recently, in the Nov. 8, 2016, general election, California voters decided on two capital punishment-related propositions: Prop 62, which called for the repeal of the death penalty; and Prop 66, which intended to speed up executions in the state. Voters struck down Prop 62 (53.15 percent voted no) and voted yes (51.13 percent) on Prop 66.

Newsom’s news sent waves — both positive and negative — around the state. And a few Kern County leaders have voiced their opinions on the decision.

“Governor Newsom is well within his authority to exert his executive power to impose a moratorium on the death penalty. However, we cannot ignore the pleas from crime victims and their families, and the more than 7.2 million voters who rejected overturning the death penalty,” said Senate Republican Leader Shannon Grove. “With one stroke of the Governor's pen, he has defied the will of the people. The Governor is sending a message to the victims' families and the women and men in law enforcement that there will not be judgment for the most heinous crimes. Senate Republicans remain committed to ensuring California is safe.”

Kern County district attorney Cynthia Zimmer released a statement, where she denounced Newsom’s action as “a direct insult to the families and friends of victims who were viciously murdered at the hands of these inmates” and “a shocking misuse of power.”

“By his actions, the Governor casts aside the verdicts of every jury from all over our state that found that the death penalty was appropriate and required by law as well as every ruling by every judge affirming those convictions,” she stated.

Zimmer said that Kern County will continue to prosecute death penalty cases, adding, “I intend to fulfill my oath to uphold the laws and constitution of the State of California, even if the Governor will not fulfill his.”

President Donald Trump weighed in via Twitter, tweeting, “Defying voters, the Governor of California will halt all death penalty executions of 737 stone cold killers. Friends and families of the always forgotten VICTIMS are not thrilled, and neither am I!”

U.S. Senator Kamala Harris applauded Newsom’s decision, labeling Wednesday “an important day for justice and for the state of California.”

“It is … a waste of taxpayer money,” she stated. “The California Legislative Analyst’s office estimates that California would save $150 million a year if it replaced the death penalty with a sentence of life without parole. That's money that could go into schools, health care, or restorative justice programs. It is not a smart way to keep people safe.”

California’s 737 death row inmate tally is currently the most in the United States, while also being slightly down from its tally three years ago due to either suicide or natural death; Florida has the second-most with 343. Since 1992, Florida has executed 70 inmates, and Texas has executed 516.

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