California governor joins 18 states in outlawing death penalty

By Darryl Coote and Clyde Hughes   |   Updated March 13, 2019 at 2:16 PM
California's Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom's executive order will give a reprieve to 737 inmates on death row. Photo by Ray Stubblebine/UPI

March 13 (UPI) -- California Gov. Gavin Newsom, D-Calif., signed an executive order Wednesday placing an indefinite moratorium on capital punishment, saying it goes against Californians' "values."

Newsom said the death penalty has been meted out unevenly, often discriminating against the poor and people of color. He added that he personally opposes the measure.

"I feel very uncomfortable as an administration, pursuing the death penalty," Newsom told reporters Wednesday. "I would like to end that system. I've been very clear about what I've done to date. I've also been clear about my opposition for 40 years.

"I hope that is consistent with the expectation of the many who have elected me last year. I'm gratified by those who have different points of view. I have no ill will to those who have very strong opinions about this issue."

Though capital punishment hasn't violated the law in California, the state hasn't executed any prisoner since January 2006.

Responding to victims and rights groups who've spoken out against the move, Newsom said he hopes more can be done to support them without handing down death sentences.

"I did this with the victims in mind," Newsom said. "We owe you and we need to do more and do better for victims in this state. But we cannot advance the death penalty in an effort to soften the blow of what happened [to victims]."

When asked about unsuccessful voter-initiated efforts to end the death penalty in the past, Newsom said he has the authority to end capital punishment. Voter efforts failed in 2012 and 2016, and voters approved a measure last year to speed up the time from conviction to execution.

"I believe that the death penalty is wrong and I'm exercising my right pursuant to the will of voters and the constitution," he said.

President Donald Trump weighed in before Newsom's announcement, saying the governor's decision violates the will of Californians.

"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," Trump said on Twitter.

The move will give a temporary reprieve to the 737 death row inmates in the state while annulling California's lethal injection protocol and closing San Quentin State Prison's execution chamber, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Newsom noted that roughly 60 percent of death row inmates are people of color and many executed over the past year were mentally impaired. He said 164 death-row inmates have been exonerated in the last 45 years. Two dozen await execution with no remaining appeals.

"Governor Newsom, who supported the failed initiative to end the death penalty in 2006, is usurping the express will of California voters and substituting his personal preferences via this hasty and ill-considered moratorium on the death penalty," Michele Hanisee, president of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys, said in a statement.

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have already abolished capital punishment.

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