Gov. Gavin Newsom Suspends Death Penalty In California

California Gov. Gavin Newsom

Enlarge Image California Gov. Gavin Newsom AP

The 737 inmates on California's largest-in-the-nation death row are getting a reprieve from Gov. Gavin Newsom, who plans to sign an executive order Wednesday placing a moratorium on executions.

The governor's office said Newsom's order will also immediately close the state's execution chamber at San Quentin Prison, but does not otherwise change any existing convictions or sentences - and will not lead to any death row inmates being released.

"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 prepared remarks on Wednesday.

Newsom called the death penalty "a failure" that "has discriminated against defendants who are mentally ill, black and brown, or can't afford expensive legal representation". California hasn't executed anyone since 2006, under then-Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and inmates are far more likely to die of old age. The order will not alter any current conviction or sentence, or lead to the release of any prisoner now on death row.

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Ellen Kreitzberg, a death penalty expert and opponent at Santa Clara University law school in California, welcomed Newsom's move. Twenty-five of the death row prisoners have exhausted all appeals.

Newsom "is usurping the express will of California voters and substituting his personal preferences via this hasty and ill-considered moratorium on the death penalty", said Michele Hanisee, president of the Association of Deputy (Los Angeles County) District Attorneys.

Public opinion in California on capital punishment has shifted dramatically in the past few decades, with increasing numbers of people preferring the option of life without the possibility of parole to the death penalty in most cases. But most of all, the death penalty is absolute.

The moratorium will be in place for the duration of Newsom's time in office, the governor's office said. The order will reprieve all individuals sentenced to death in California.

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"The disparities are very real and raw to me now especially as I spend every week working on the issues of paroles and commutations", he said. A repeal question also was on the ballot in 2016 with the question to speed up executions.

"The moral leadership the governor is showing puts us in line with other countries and other states in terms of abolishing the death penalty", she said.

The governor told Cooper he called Trump privately to thank him for visiting Butte County in the aftermath of last year's deadly wildfires, the cause of which was its own source of discord between the two men. Federal courts ordered a halt to executions until the California department of corrections and rehabilitation (CDCR) could ensure its lethal injection protocol was administered without risk of exposing inmates to excessive pain.

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