Calif. Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks at a Capitol news conference, in Sacramento, Feb. 11, 2019. (Associated Press)
The order will halt all executions performed at San Quentin State Prison while Newsom, a Democrat, is governor but leaves all convictions intact. A future governor can undo the order.
“The intentional killing of another person is wrong. And as governor, I will not oversee the execution of any individual,” Newsom said in a prepared statement obtained by the Southern California News Group.
“The intentional killing of another person is wrong. And as governor, I will not oversee the execution of any individual.”
— California Gov. Gavin Newsom
Newsom has been a vocal opponent of the death penalty and has argued it is susceptible to human error. Many have criticized the death penalty as being racially biased and too expensive. Since 1973, 164 prisoners nationwide have been wrongly convicted and freed from death row, according to the Los Angeles Times.
This Sept. 21, 2010, file photo shows the interior of the lethal injection facility at San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, Calif. Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to sign a moratorium on the death penalty in California Wednesday, March 13, 2019. (Associated Press)
Newsom's order comes just weeks after the bloody slaying of Bambi Larson, a 59-year-old San Jose resident who was found stabbed to death in her home. The suspect arrested in connection with Larson's death is a 24-year-old illegal immigrant and gang member, authorities said, according to FOX 2 of the Bay Area.
The governor's order also defies the wishes of California voters, who backed a 2016 measure to speed up executions. The governor previously backed failed measures in 2012 and 2016 to abolish the death penalty in the state. The last execution held in California occurred in 2006 for Clarence Ray Allen, 76, who was convicted of killing three people, the Los Angeles Daily News reported.
The Association of Deputy District Attorneys slammed the move, saying Newson was "usurping" the will of the voters.
“Governor Newsom, who supported the failed initiative to end the death penalty in 2006, 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 a statement by association president Michele Hanisee.
In this Aug. 16, 2016, file photo a condemned inmate is led out of his east block cell on death row at San Quentin State Prison, in San Quentin, Calif. Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to sign a moratorium on the death penalty in California Wednesday, March 13, 2019. (Associated Press)
Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the pro-death penalty Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, told the Times Newsom’s actions are “an abuse of power” and that “he’s following in the footsteps of other governors who abused this power because they were frustrated by a law that they just personally disagreed with.”
Not everyone viewed Newsom's pending actions as a negative. Kim Kardashian West praised the move in a series of tweets Tuesday.
"I have met with and am very supportive of Governor Newsom and his decision to help bring an end to the California Death Penalty. Racial bias and unfairness run deep throughout the justice system but especially when it comes to the death penalty," she wrote.
Kardashian West has become an advocate for criminal justice reform in recent years, meeting with President Trump to discuss the issue and agreeing to pay the rent over a five-year period for a Tennessee inmate released from prison after federal sentencing reforms were put in place.
California has executed 13 inmates since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. In the decades since, 79 death row inmates have died of natural causes and 26 by suicide, according to the Times. The state has the most people on death row. Twenty-five inmates have exhausted their appeals, the Daily News reported.
“I do not believe that a civilized society can claim to be a leader in the world as long as its government continues to sanction the premeditated and discriminatory execution of its people,” Newsom said.