March 14, 2019 23:16:00
California’s Governor has halted the death penalty, saying he is deeply troubled by the possibility of executing an innocent person even though the state’s voters have repeatedly backed capital punishment.
- There have been no executions in California in the past 13 years
- Mr Newsom says he made the move because he anticipated the state would resume executions
- Republicans condemned the Governor’s action, saying it offended the families of victims
Gavin Newsom was convinced by statistics suggesting that possibly dozens of the 737 inmates on the state’s death row were innocent.
California has not held an execution since 2006, but appeared to be moving towards resuming them.
“I couldn’t sleep at night,” Mr Newsom said.
“Do we have the right to kill? I don’t believe we do.”
In signing an executive order that granted reprieve to death row inmates and closing the state’s execution chamber, Mr Newsom waded into treacherous political territory.
He said he had anticipated that within a month he would have been asked to sign off on a new protocol for administering lethal injections to death row inmates, clearing the way for executions to begin again.
In addition, he said, 25 of the state’s death row inmates had exhausted all of their appeals, meaning they would be in line for execution.
Republicans lash out
On the campaign trail just last year, Mr Newsom said he would respect the voters’ will regarding the death penalty.
But on Wednesday he said that abstract idea faded as he was personally faced with the possibility of signing death warrants.
He pointed to recent successful efforts to free inmates who were wrongly convicted, saying that roughly one in 25 felons were later found to be innocent.
With 737 inmates on death row, that equated to a possible 30 who are innocent, he said, adding that of the 25 who had exhausted their appeals, one could be innocent.
Republicans condemned the action on Wednesday (local time), saying Mr Newsom’s move was an offence to the families of victims of gruesome crimes.
US President Donald Trump tweeted his displeasure, calling the 737 inmates on death row “stone-cold killers”, and adding he wasn’t pleased.
Shawn Steele, a Californian representative on the Republican National Committee, said the GOP would likely use the moratorium in upcoming campaigns against Mr Newsom and other Democrats.
“He’s putting his party in a bad spot,” Mr Steele said.
Ellen Kreitzberg, a death penalty expert and opponent at Santa Clara University law school in California, welcomed Mr Newsom’s move.
Mr Newsom does not have the power to overturn California’s death penalty law, Ms Kreitzberg said, but he can refuse to sign any death warrants and can commute death sentences to life imprisonment.
“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.
State senator Nancy Skinner, a Democrat from Berkeley who supported Mr Newsom’s move, said there could be a backlash.
“But I think that even people who support the death penalty don’t want us to execute an innocent person,” she said.
No death row inmates will be released under the order.
Despite California’s liberal reputation and growing unease with the death penalty, voters have repeatedly repudiated efforts to abolish it.
As recently as 2016, a measure to abolish the death penalty failed, and another, aimed at speeding up executions, passed.
March 14, 2019 22:47:58