SACRAMENTO, Calif. — 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.
Newsom also is withdrawing the lethal injection regulations that death penalty opponents already have tied up in courts and shuttering the new execution chamber at San Quentin State Prison that has never been used.
“The intentional killing of another person is wrong and as governor, I will not oversee the execution of any individual,” he said in prepared remarks.
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.” He said innocent people have been wrongly convicted and sometimes put to death.
California hasn’t executed anyone since 2006, when Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor. Though voters in 2016 narrowly approved a ballot measure to speed up the punishment, no condemned inmate faced imminent execution.
Since California’s last execution, its death row population has grown to house one of every four condemned inmates in the United States. They include Scott Peterson, whose trial for killing his wife, Laci, riveted the country, and Richard Davis, who kidnapped 12-year-old Polly Klaas during a slumber party and strangled her.
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.
While the governor’s move is certain to be challenged in court, aides say his power to grant reprieves is written into the state Constitution and that he is not altering any convictions or allowing any condemned inmate a chance at an early release.
Other governors also have enacted moratoriums. Republican Illinois Gov. George Ryan was the first in 2000 and later was followed by Pennsylvania, Washington and Oregon. Illinois ultimately outlawed executions, as did Washington.
Newsom’s office said 25 condemned inmates have exhausted all of their appeals and could have faced execution if the courts approved the state’s new lethal injection method.