Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) instituted a death penalty moratorium in California for the remainder of his term.
Newsom announced his decision on Wednesday, reports NBC Los Angeles. The governor will sign an executive order that keeps California’s 737 death row inmates alive. None of the imprisoned will be released, and none will receive any alterations to their sentences or convictions. California houses a quarter of the country's incarcerated people condemned to the death penalty.
Newsom admitted the cause is a personal one, citing his grandfather and father’s advocacy on behalf of the wrongly convicted.
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"It's a very emotional place that I stand," Newsom said. "This is about who I am as a human being, this is about what I can or cannot do; to me this was the right thing to do.”
He also claimed the death penalty targets the most vulnerable in American society.
"Our death penalty system has been — by any measure — a failure," Newsom said. "It has discriminated against defendants who are mentally ill, Black and brown, or can’t afford expensive legal representation."
The governor also pushed back against those who claim the death penalty makes communities safer.
"It has provided no public safety benefit or value as a deterrent," Newsom said. "It has wasted billions of taxpayer dollars. But most of all, the death penalty is absolute. Irreversible and irreparable in the event of human error."
California hadn’t executed a prisoner since 2006 when Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor. California’s Supreme Court outlawed the death penalty in 1972, but citizens voted to reinstate it in 1978.
The decision drew harsh criticism from death penalty supporters who accused the Democrat of going against the will of California’s voters, pointing to a 2016 referendum in which residents voted down a bill to repeal the death penalty.
Even President Donald Trump tweeted his thoughts on the matter:
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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 13, 2019
Michele Hanisee, the president of the Association of Deputy (Los Angeles County) District Attorneys, told KTVU 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."
Newsom campaigned for the repeal in 2016 but said he would “be accountable to the will of the voters” if elected governor, according to The Sacramento Bee.
“I would not get my personal opinions in the way of the public’s right to make a determination of where they want to take us,” the governor said during his campaign.
Republican Assemblyman Tom Lackey believes Newsom broke a promise.
“It’s a reversal of the position he had indicated that he was going to take,” Lackey said. “You’ve got to remember, you’ve got families that are reeling from the brutal nature in which they lost their loved ones.”
Newsom claims he never promised to uphold the death penalty, arguing his previous position was in response to a hypothetical question.
“It’s not an abstract question any longer,” he said. “I cannot sign off on executing hundreds and hundreds of human beings.”
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