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Mixed reaction to California governor's death penalty moratorium


Last updated 3/13/2019 at 2:06pm

LOS ANGELES - The Orange County District Attorney's Office and the head of an association representing Los Angeles County prosecutors said on Wednesday, March 13 that Gov. Gavin Newsom's order declaring a moratorium on the death penalty in California ignores the will of the state's voters, while some area legislators commended the decision as a "momentous achievement'' and "an important day for justice.''

"Governor Gavin Newsom's decision to ignore the voices of California voters and place a moratorium on the death penalty betrays the very same electorate that bestowed trust in him when he was voted into office,'' the Orange County District Attorney's Office said in a statement released shortly after Newsom's announcement.

The Orange County District Attorney's Office noted in the 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.

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.

Sen. Kamala Harris, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, said in a statement, "This is 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, said he 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.''

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.''


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