California Governor Gavin Newsom halts the state’s death penalty with an Executive Order rousing comments and opinions from supporters and opponents, including some inmates.
“I did this with a heavy heart,” said Newsom in an interview on KRON 4, a Bay Area television channel. “I did this with the victims in mind.”
“The order was met with scorn from supporters of the death penalty who called the blanket reprieves an abuse of power,” NPR reported.
Marc Klass said it’s a “Trumpian” thing to do and that the governor is making the death penalty all about himself. He said “the people have spoken and people like Richard Allen Davis have no reason to breathe the same air as everyone else.” Davis was convicted of murdering Klass’ daughter in the 1990s.
Klass said people in California support the death penalty but Newsom doesn’t because it doesn’t support his personal philosophy. “I think I’ll probably die before (Davis) does,” he said. “I’d like to see him die. I’d like to see all of them executed.” He called those on Death Row “the dregs of society.”
In a Tweet, President Trump said Newsom is “defying voters,” and called the those condemned to die “stone-cold killers.”
Newsom said the death penalty is used unfairly on people of color and it has wasted taxpayers’ money, a cost, according to Newsom, that has cost taxpayers $5 billion. He noted there are currently 737 men on Death Row at San Quentin, and the state has only executed 13 people since the death penalty was reinstated in 1977. Since then, he said 120 people have died on death row by either suicide or natural causes.
Often over looked by the number of men on Death Row are the more than 20 women sentenced to death at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla, Calif.
“If you want to turn this into a real place of rehabilitation, get rid of death row,” said inmate Anthony Evans, 55. “This is supposed to be the most rehabilitative place in the state.”
Evans said the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) could use the money it spends on the Death Row to fund more rehabilitative programs at San Quentin. “This is the oldest prison in California. The only thing that keeps them in control of this property is the East Block Death Row.”
“Every governor that comes in gotta do some- thing with this system,” said inmate Hamisi X. Spears, 46. He said Gov. Gray Davis maintained the position that no one who was serving life would go home on his watch, and Gov. Schwarzenegger wouldn’t oppose some of the decisions made by the parole board to grant some inmates release dates.
Not all inmates agree with Newsom’s decision. Inmate “Das” Stuart speaks his own truth. “I’m sad that some of them (on Death Row) won’t be put to death.” He said he still feels the pain from 40 years ago when his 26-year-old wife was murdered by a man in Washington state. He said the man was convicted, sentenced to death and later had his sentence commuted. He said because some people may be innocent, “I’m ambivalent.”
“Some of those dudes (on Death Row) are not guilty,” said inmate Timothy Pinckney, 56. “I agree with what the governor is doing. I think he made a good point, even though the (victims’) families don’t agree with him.”
Inmate Ed Carlevato, 66, said “If I were on Death Row I would want to be executed.” He reasoned that, “If all my appeals were exhausted, I want to be executed instead of living in a box for nothing.” As a Catholic, he said such a desire to be killed would leave him “conflicted,” but he sees it from the other side so his faith allows him to side with Newsom.
The governor’s Executive Order N-09-19 says, in part “It is hereby ordered that: An executive moratorium on the death penalty shall be instituted in the form of a reprieve for all people sentenced to death in California… California’s lethal injection protocol shall be repealed,” and “The Death Chamber at San Quentin shall be immediately closed…”
Although often under reported, there are two Death Chambers at the prison. This is because there are two methods of execution in California. According to the California Code of Regulations, Title 15, Section 3349, “Inmates sentenced to death shall have the opportunity to choose to have the punishment imposed by lethal gas or lethal injection.”
The gas chamber was installed in the 1930s to replace the gallows where men were hanged. In 2010, an upgraded lethal injection chamber was installed at San Quentin at a cost of $853,000, NPR reported. It was never used. “The last execution in California occurred Jan. 17,
2006, when Clarence Ray Allen, 76, was put to death.”
“The day has finally come,” said Rep. Jared Huffman, D-SanRafael, the Marin Independent Journal reported. “This is some- thing I’ve been pushing and expecting to happen for a long time. I’m surprised we made it through two terms of Jerry Brown without him doing it. I’m glad that Gov. Newsom had the guts to tackle it early on.”
In other KRON 4 broadcast, current and former prosecutors had different thoughts on Newsom’s order. San Mateo District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said his county has put away “vicious killers” and victims’ families are “out- raged.”
California Senator Kamala Harris said the death penalty is “immoral” and deeply flawed. She was the district attorney of San Francisco and the state’s attorney general. The city’s current district attorney, George Gascon said poor people and people of color are more likely to have the death penalty imposed on them than anyone.