Orange County’s former District Attorney held a strong position of support for the death penalty. So much so, during the Great Recession he still insisted on spending the additional $1 million per case to obtain the death sentence. I did not disagree with him. But, when asked if he could put this policy on hold for a year or two until the economy recovered, he did not give an eloquent defense of his budget position to stand firm in spite of the cost. Instead, he stormed out of the room and launched a personal attack against the individual who asked this simple and rhetorical question.
Spending an additional $1 million to successfully obtain the death sentence is a cost that all of us have borne. It seems that, by giving a four year reprieve, the Governor of California needs to make 58 counties partially whole.
With the Governor’s announcement yesterday to push the hold button on administering a sentence on those who earned the death penalty, it generated the responses you would expect. Those on the left generally praised the decision and those on the right empathized with the relatives of the victims.
CBS 2 and KCAL 9 and MyNewsLA.Com provide reactions in the first piece below. As does California Globe in the second piece. For my statement, see https://moorlach.cssrc.us/content/sen-john-m-w-moorlach-gov-gavin-newsoms-new-position-death-penalty.
Mixed Reaction to California Governor’s Death Penalty Moratorium
POSTED BY CONTRIBUTING EDITOR
Orange County’s top prosecutor and the head of an association representing Los Angeles County prosecutors Wednesday decried Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order declaring a moratorium on the death penalty in California, while the L.A. County public defender’s office called it an “historic step” for criminal justice reform in the state.
“I’m obviously disgusted,” Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer told City News Service. “The governor does not have the moral high ground here. He talks about the morality of his decision-making. Well, tell that to the victims of these most heinous crimes committed by California’s worst murderers.”
The governor should seek another referendum on the issue rather than unilaterally placing a moratorium on capital punishment, Spitzer said. He noted that former Gov. Jerry Brown was also morally opposed to the death penalty, but as attorney general and governor did not try to stop executions in the state.
“He understood his legal obligation and took an oath to uphold the constitution and uphold the laws,” Spitzer said of Brown.
Orange County has more than five dozen inmates on the state’s death row list, but in at least one of those cases, the District Attorney’s Office reversed course on pursuing the ultimate punishment for Kenneth Clair, who is housed in Orange County Jail as he pushes for a new trial.
Spitzer said when he was an assemblyman, he asked the warden for permission to be present at the execution of Clarence Ray Allen, the last inmate to be executed in California in January 2006, because he anticipated running for District Attorney one day and felt it was important to be more informed on the death penalty.
“If you’re going to make policy for or against the death penalty, you have an obligation to be fully educated on the issue,” Spitzer said. He said he “walked away from it with a lot of peace, knowing that I was very carefully looking because of all the controversy to see if there were any inappropriate body movements or anything that showed suffering or any indication of pain and I didn’t see anything like that.”
Spitzer’s office noted in a statement that a ballot measure to speed up the appellate process for death row inmates passed in 2016 “because Californians want to see justice for the victims of the 737 condemned inmates,” adding that 65 of those inmates were sentenced to death for crimes in Orange County.
Steve Herr, father of murder victim Sam Herr, whose killer Daniel Wozniak was sentenced to death in September 2016, said the governor “was going against the will of the people.”
Herr said the news was “very upsetting… We’re obviously disappointed, highly upset.”
Herr acknowledged that it was unlikely he would ever see Wozniak executed anyway, but it was comfort to him and his family knowing the killer was on death row.
“I’d like to hear (Newsom) explain to me and the victims why he thinks the death penalty is not the appropriate consequence” in Wozniak’s case. “He’s going to have to deal with the victims’ families. He has no idea how we feel. None whatsoever.”
Michele Hanisee, president of the union representing nearly 1,000 Los Angeles County deputy district attorneys, said the governor is “usurping the express will of California voters and substituting his personal preferences via this hasty and ill-considered moratorium on the death penalty.”
More than 200 inmates are on death row for murders committed in Los Angeles County — the largest number by far of any county in California.
But a number of politicians agreed with the governor, who called it “the right thing” to do, as did the office of Los Angeles County Public Defender Ricardo Garcia.
“The governor’s decision brings California closer to ending the death penalty, a deeply flawed and racially biased system that fails to improve public safety,” the public defender’s statement says. “Only last year, Vincente Benavides, a man who had spent 25 years on death row in California, was exonerated. Mr. Benavides had always maintained his innocence, and he had no criminal record or history of violence. An innocent man could have been executed. This is only one reason why the moratorium is so important.”
Sen. Kamala Harris, a former prosecutor and state attorney general who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, called it “an important day for justice and for the state of California … As a career law enforcement official, I have opposed the death penalty because it is immoral, discriminatory, ineffective, and a gross misuse of taxpayer dollars.”
Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, wrote in a post on Medium, “What the governor does today and what California does today is courageous and civilized and more than a grand gesture. It is a momentous achievement … I commend Governor Gavin Newsom for this decision, putting California on the same path as other civilized governments of the world.”
Assemblyman Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer, D-South Los Angeles, also welcomed the governor’s decision.
“Time and again we have seen the death penalty fail to promote justice. Whether evaluating communities subject to over-policing, discriminatory sentencing policies, or the use of new evidence to overturn past convictions, there are simply too many systemic concerns to support continued state-sponsored killings,” he said. “Additionally, the death penalty has been a misuse of taxpayer dollars as the state spends billions fighting appeals, far more than is spent on incarceration for life sentences.”
Meanwhile, two Republicans from Orange County issued statements opposing the governor’s decision to declare the moratorium and to immediately close the death chamber at San Quentin State Prison.
“As a member of the Assembly Public Safety Committee, I already see enough legislation favoring criminals, rather than the victims,” said Assemblyman Tyler Diep, R-Westminster “This action is completely unacceptable and a disregard to the will of the voters. I ask, `When will the governor stand up for the victims and their families? Protecting convicted felons is another horrible message to would-be criminals who are already enjoying lax laws in the state. When is enough, enough?”’
Sen. Patricia Bates, R-Laguna Niguel, said she was “disappointed that today’s action undermines the will of California’s voters who spoke clearly in 2016 to reaffirm the death penalty.”
State Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, also criticized the move.
“Rather than a broad sweep, he could have dealt with any hint of injustice by examining each case giving reprieves where discrimination existed,” Moorlach said. “I’m just trying to grasp how the relatives of the victims will comprehend a possible slight to perpetrators who so tragically impacted their lives.”
Local attorney Seymour Amster — who defended convicted “Grim Sleeper” Lonnie Franklin Jr. in a Los Angeles Superior Court trial in which the former Los Angeles city garage attendant and sanitation worker was sentenced to death for the serial killings of nine women and a teenage girl — called the moratorium “a good first step.”
“Certainly we should listen to the governor and we should have discussions because the death penalty is truly not reducing crime in our communities and money would be better invested in education and law enforcement so we can truly reduce criminal behavior,” Amster told City News Service, echoing comments he made after jurors recommended in June 2016 that Franklin be sentenced to death.
Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Office, the California Innocence Project, Re:store Justice and Death Penalty Focus also lauded the governor’s order.
“It has been my dream for many years that we would end the human rights violation known as the death penalty in California,” said Justin Brooks, director of the California Innocence Project. “It is certain that as long as there is the death penalty there is the risk of executing innocent people.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom Issues a Death Sentence on California’s Death Penalty
‘Governor’s decision of blanket reprieve of executions is abuse of power’
By Katy Grimes
California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday that he is granting reprieves for all death penalty murderers on California’s death row, calling the death penalty “ineffective, irreversible and immoral.” He then signed an executive order putting a moratorium on the executions of the 737 inmates currently incarcerated in California’s death row.
With Newsom’s announcement a political friend said, “Another 737 just went down.”
“We cannot advance the death penalty in an effort to soften the blow of what happens to these victims,” Newsom said. “If someone kills, we do not kill. We’re better than that.”
In 2016, California voters rejected a ballot initiative that would have repealed the death penalty, and instead voted to expedite the executions of the inmates currently sitting on death row. Newsom supported the initiative to repeal. “The Governor clearly does not represent the majority of people in this state who want to see justice served for these heinous crimes,” said Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore).
At his press conference, Newsom told a lengthy story of when he was a child, meeting a wrongly convicted man, and the impression it left on him. But victim’s groups are appalled.
“With his announcement that he is granting sentencing reprieves for all death penalty eligible murderers on California’s death row, Governor Gavin Newsom has substituted his own opinion for the repeated decisions of the state’s voters,” Michael Rushford with the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation said in an interview.
“The people have voted for the death penalty eleven times since 1972, including three times in the last seven years,” said Criminal Justice Legal Foundation Legal Director Kent Scheidegger in a press statement. “The Governor’s decision to grant a blanket reprieve to prevent executions is an abuse of power and a slap in the face of the families of murder victims.”
“The Governor can reprieve a case that raises a question, but this law was never meant to do a blanket moratorium,” Rushford added. “In a recent court filing, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra joined with murderers” and asked the federal court of appeals to reject a motion by the families of murder victims seeking to stay an illegal injunction that prevents the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation from making itself able to carry out executions of the state’s worst murderers, Rushford said. “The AG said ‘victims are just bystanders, and they have no legal standing.’”
“Governor Newsom callously disregards the anguish of these families and rips from them any sense of justice, victimizing them all over again,” Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber) said. “The Governor has the authority to delay the implementation of the law but his action is eroding faith of California voters in our democracy and our system of justice.”
“These are the 737 inmates on California’s death row,” the Los Angeles Times reported. The LAT posted a database of all 737 inmates with the ability to click on a photo and read about the heinous crimes committed: serial killers, gang murderers, botched robberies/murders, violent crimes of passion, and some of the most vile, evil crimes imaginable are included.
Newsom, in prepared remarks prior to the press conference, also said the system has wasted “billions of taxpayer dollars.” However, Newsom was Lt. Gov. for eight years, and with Gov. Jerry Brown’s long history of opposing the death penalty, neither ever proposed actual reforms to the death penalty process. Currently, once a criminal is convicted to death row, he is granted three automatic appeals, which take decades. Most death row inmates die of old age rather than being put to death for their crimes.
Many sincere criminal justice reformers have proposed ways to speed up the appeals process, to not only bring swift justice to the victims, but to help root out wrongly convicted persons, rather than letting them rot in prison unjustly.
In 2016 when Prop. 66 was passed, it was intended to be a remedy to the most heinous criminals sitting on death row for 30 years, with endless appeals delaying justice and costing taxpayers hundreds of millions – and to ensure no innocent person was executed. Opponents sued, taking the case to the California Supreme Court, which upheld voters’ decision, but watered down a part of the initiative. The Court stated that provisions requiring the state to speed up the death penalty appeals process were directive, rather than mandatory.
Senator Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel):
“The announcement benefits people like Randy Kraft who butchered at least 16 young men and Scott Peterson who was convicted of murdering his wife and their unborn child. It sends the terrible message that the taking of innocent life will not be punished to the fullest extent of the law. Handing out unearned reprieves will only add to the pain felt by many of the victims’ relatives.”
Michele Hanisee, president, Association of Deputy District Attorneys said in a press statement:
“The voters of the State of California support the death penalty. 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 2012. Governor Newsom, who supported the failed initiative to end the death penalty in 2012, is usurping the express will of California voters and substituting his personal preferences via this hasty and ill-considered moratorium on the death penalty.”
Re:store Justice said in a statement:
“This is a historic moment for California’s criminal justice system with Governor Newsom’s leadership to place a moratorium on the inhumane and discriminatory death penalty,” said Re:store Justice executive director and co-founder Alexandria Mallick.
Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), said in a press statement:
“I applaud Governor Newsom for his courageous decision to a stop to all executions in California. The death penalty doesn’t make our communities safer, is immoral, and has huge racial disparities. It is time to end capital punishment in our state.”
Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) said in a press statement:
Indeed, during last year’s campaign for governor, a Newsom spokesperson said that, while he was personally opposed to the death penalty, “he 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.” Now that he has won that office, he’s knowingly defying the electorate.
Another aspect is the convicted killers come from the state’s counties whose elected District Attorneys spent $1 million or more to obtain each of these death sentences. It costs that much to obtain the death penalty, versus life in prison. Therefore, the counties have spent some $737 million to respect current law and the wishes of the constituents of the elected District Attorneys.
President Donald Trump said in a Tweet:
“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!”
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