Child murderers, rapists and serial killers who tortured their victims with everything from ice picks to a 4-foot twig are set to have their lives spared Wednesday — until at least 2023 — as California Gov. Gavin Newsom signs an executive order to halt death penalties in the state.
The controversial decision by the Democrat – which has drawn the ire of one of his adversaries, President Trump – was influenced by his belief that California’s death penalty system “has discriminated against defendants who are mentally ill, black and brown, or can’t afford expensive legal representation.”
Newsom, in prepared remarks he is expected to deliver Wednesday, also says the system has wasted “billions of taxpayer dollars”.
The state’s residents though, in 2016, narrowly struck down a ballot measure to repeal the death penalty. And Newsom’s decree appears to be a flip-flop from what he told the editorial board of the Modesto Bee newspaper that year while campaigning for the failed measure — that he 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” on the issue.
California hasn’t executed anyone since 2006 due to legal challenges to its methods, and the state has put to death only 13 people since 1978. The new executive order is said to last throughout Newsom’s duration in office, giving a reprieve to 737 individuals on death row.
Here are some of the criminals that get to live their lives for a little bit longer – without fear of execution – following Newsom’s decision:
The disappearance of Scott’s 27-year old wife, Laci Peterson — who was 8 months pregnant – gripped the nation in the early 2000s yet ended in tragedy after her body was found dumped in San Francisco Bay. Peterson, in a nationally televised case, was found guilty of her and their unborn son’s murder and was exposed to be living a double life, also having an affair with a massage therapist.
Dubbed by the media as the “Tool Box Killer”, Bittaker was one half of a sadistic duo convicted of raping and killing five teen girls in 1979 after torturing them with household items such as pliers and screwdrivers.
Lawrence Bittaker grins in court during his trial. He was convicted of raping and killing five California teens in 1979. (Getty Images)
Four of his five victims were under the age of 17, and Bittaker has been living his life on death row for more than double the number of years they were alive. He once tried to appeal his execution on the basis of faking insanity by drinking water out of his cell’s toilet bowl – and has also filed trivial lawsuits expressing outrage over “broken cookies and soggy sandwiches” being served to him behind bars, prosecutors have said.
SOCCORO CARO AND SUSAN EUBANKS
Two of the 22 women on death row in California are there for similar reasons – killing their children and then trying, but failing, to kill themselves. Both were going through marital issues at the time of the heinous acts.
Soccoro Caro, left, is on death row for killing three of her four sons in 1999. Susan Eubanks, like Caro, shot herself after killing her children, but lived.
In Caro’s case, she shot three of her four sons in 1999, ages 5, 8, and 11, then blasted herself in the head. Caro’s 1-year-old was spared. That same year, Eubanks gunned down all four of her children – ages 4, 6, 7 and 14, before intentionally firing a round into her abdomen.
Cooper was convicted in the 1983 murders of Doug and Peggy Ryen, their 10-year-old daughter, Jessica, and 11-year-old neighbor, Christopher. The family and neighbor had been brutally attacked with multiple weapons, including a hatchet, knife and ice pick, while their 8-year-old son survived.
Cooper was convicted for a series of murders in 1983, but has maintained his claim that he was framed. (San Quentin State Prison)
For years, Cooper has claimed he was framed for the killings. Newsom and former Gov. Jerry Brown, in recent months, have ordered new DNA testing of evidence from the investigation. Cooper’s campaign also has seen support from the likes of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris and celebrities such as Kim Kardashian.
Kraft, who came to be known as the “Scorecard Killer,” murdered at least 16 young men over a period of 11 years beginning in 1972. He is also believed to have committed the rape and murder of up to 51 other boys and young men, with many victims who had previously been enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Kraft would typically ply them with alcohol and tranquilizers, before torturing, binding and sexually abusing them. He usually killed his victims by strangulation, asphyxiation or bludgeoning.
He obtained his nickname after investigators discovered a coded list of 61 printed terms and phrases believed to refer to each of his victims. In one of the most gruesome killings, connected to the term “Twiggie,” the victim, 19-year-old James Dale Reeves of Cypress, was found near the side of the San Diego Freeway with a 4-foot long twig stuffed inside a body cavity.
Wesson, the former leader of a cult-like clan, was convicted for killing nine of his children in 2004 – all of which he had fathered with his wife, daughters and nieces, in a sickening tale of incest and sexual abuse. He killed the children – seven of which were under the age of 9 — after a standoff with police in Fresno over a custody dispute.
Wesson was said to be the leader of a cult-like clan before killing his own children. (San Quentin State Prison)
Jerry Dyer, Fresno’s Chief of Police at the time, told KFSN this week that Wesson “was able to control the mind of people to do the unthinkable very similar to what Charles Manson did.” An article published by the station looking back on the case also states Wesson believed he was Jesus and if anyone tried to break up his family, they would all ascend to heaven.
RICHARD ALLEN DAVIS
Davis drew national attention in 1993 for the kidnapping, molestation and murder of 12-year-old Polly Klaas, a Petaluma girl who was snatched from her home at knifepoint during a sleepover with her friends, while her mother was nearby.
Richard Allen Davis became a national figure after kidnapping and killing 12-year-old Polly Klaas. (San Quentin State Prison)
The search for Klaas before she was found dead, like the Peterson case, was a major story in the media. Davis also is reported to have survived after overdosing on opiates in his prison cell while awaiting execution.
Fox News’ Laura Ingle, David Aaro and Elizabeth Llorente contributed to this report.