Newsom cites failures of death penalty as reasons for issuing moratorium

New California State Governor Gavin Newsom (contributed photo)
The San Quentin death chamber (Wikipedia photo)

The new state governor of California took time out to explain his decision to issue a moratorium on death penalty that raised howls of protest even outside of California as the controversial issue may become a nationwide issue that may lead to banning state-sanctioned executions altogether.

Barely in office for two months after succeeding Governor Edmund Jerry Brown, former San Francisco Mayor and Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom took to a telebriefing with ethnic media to explain that he has always been a strong opponent of the death penalty for decades now.

Newsom’s March 13, 2019 moratorium on the execution of convicts in the death row caused raised-eyebrows especially from those who remembered that Californians expressed their sentiments through the ballots defeating measures in 2012 and then in 2016 for the abolition of death penalty and the automatic commutation to life sentences without parole.  A proposition was even passed in 2016 calling for a shortened appeals process thereby speeding up of executions.

In defending his decision, Newsom reiterated that he has been crystal clear in his opposition to the death penalty as he believes not only in rehabilitation but also in social justice, economic justice and racial justice.

“I believe fundamentally it (death penalty) is unfair by definition and is wasteful. Since the 1970s, 13 people were executed that I think fundamentally was unfairly applied not just on people of color but also on people with mental disabilities and those who simply cannot afford the right kind of representation,” shared Newsom who also added that he would individually be responsible by signing off on the executions as governor that would weigh heavily on him..

Also advanced as an argument against death penalty is the contention that the death penalty is that it is ineffective, irreversible, and immoral and goes against the very values that Americans stand for.

With the moratorium, some 737 convicts in death row will be granted a stay in their executions during Newsom’s stay in office, the execution chamber that includes the gas chamber at San Quentin Prison will be closed, and the state’s lethal injection protocol, the state’s formally approved procedure for carrying out executions, will be eliminated.

“California has 737 people in the death row the largest in the Western hemisphere and not just in the United States of which 66.49% are people of color disproportionately Black and Hispanics. We have not had executions since 2006. Since 1978 when death penalty was restored in California, only 13 people were executed but interestingly, 120 others have died, while in death row, either of natural causes or of suicide. We currently have 25 individuals that have exhausted all their appeals… that we are entrusted to execute,” reported Newsom on the current status of California as to death penalty cases.

Newsom also stated that 164 people have been wrongly convicted in the United States since 1973 with five in California who are all people of color including Vicente Figueroa who was exonerated after serving almost 26 years in the California death row.

“We spent $5 billion since 1978 in California on this protocol. Considering the 164 that were wrongly convicted since 1973, the National Academy of Sciences did a study not too long ago that estimated that 1 of 25 people in the death row in the U.S. are likely innocent,” Newsom laments.

Using that statistics, Newsom estimated it would mean that around 30 of the 737 people in the death row were inappropriately and wrongly convicted and would have been executed for crimes they did not commit.

Newsom also cited that if all 737 were to put to death, there will be one execution daily for over two years or execution of up to fourteen years if there will be executions weekly if all appeals were to be exhausted..

“Let me remind everyone that no one is being released and sentences have not been commuted. We are not arguing against the heinous nature of many of these crimes. I have read over 230 of the crimes that have been committed that in some detail were gruesome and horrific. I don’t take this lightly and I am not here to celebrate this action. It weighs heavily on my conscience and I know what it does on others,” Newsom underscored.

Since 1778 to 1972, California had 709 executions with the last meted on 76-year-old legally blind, diabetic and wheelchair-bound Clarence Ray Allen who was served the lethal injection in January 17, 2006.

The governor also put into context that. America has executed more human beings than any in a democracy in the world and that it has aligned with death penalty-enforcing countries that the U.S. tends to malign due to human rights abuses.  .   .  .

“The experience is the death row is that the process of execution is error-prone and is a racist system. I believe that these inequities and the injustices are real and the death penalty is the manifestation of that, “you are better off being rich and guilty in the U.S. justice system than you are poor and innocent,” Newsom claims.

Newsom added that the evidence is overwhelming that death penalty is not a deterrent and maintains he can cite a study after study to support that claim.  He also asks to consider the states with and those without death penalty and compare crime rates in those states asserting that one will not see any correlation.

Critics of the moratorium are also told that the people of California has entrusted and afforded the governor this fundamental right to reprieve, the constitutional right that afforded the governor based on his or her judgment.