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Newsom should reverse California's death penalty moratorium, prosecutors say

Newsom should reverse California's death penalty moratorium, prosecutors say
Orange County Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer and his counterpart in Riverside County on Thursday criticized Gov. Gavin Newsom's moratorium on executions. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The top prosecutors for Orange and Riverside counties Thursday joined relatives of murder victims whose killers are on California’s Death Row to call on Gov. Gavin Newsom to end his moratorium on executions.

“With the stroke of a pen, the governor made a blanket decision to violate the constitutional rights of crime victims, as expressed in Marsy’s Law,” Orange County Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer said. “He did it because he’s a chicken. If he had followed the process under clemency review, he would have met with each of the victims’ families and heard them, as well as defense attorneys, before making a decision” on granting clemency to a condemned inmate.

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“But he was a chicken because he didn’t want to hear the facts or know about the sadistic behavior of the individuals who engaged in these horrific murders,” Spitzer said.

Spitzer and Riverside County Dist. Atty. Mike Hestrin stood with the relatives of murder victims in front of the Victims’ Memorial Wall outside the D.A.’s office in downtown Riverside.

Since Newsom announced the moratorium on March 13, Spitzer and Hestrin have been criticizing it in a “Victims of Murder Justice Tour,” which was most recently in Sacramento and is bound for San Diego next.

Newsom spokesman Brian Ferguson said the governor believes “survivor families ... deserve our state’s respect.” But Newsom, Ferguson said, remains convinced that the criminal justice system “discriminates against defendants who are mentally ill, of color or can’t afford expensive legal representation.”

For those reasons, and Newsom’s concern over the possibility that a “wrongfully convicted” person may receive capital punishment, the governor believes executions should not occur, Ferguson said.

Spitzer and Hestrin emphasized that death penalty cases are the most intensely vetted, at the trial and appellate court levels, leaving minimal margin for mistakes.

“These cases are reviewed six ways to Sunday, from every direction,” Spitzer said.

Twenty-three Death Row inmates have exhausted their appeals and are awaiting execution. “It is unconscionable for the governor not to follow the law,” Spitzer said. “His arguments are fallacious.”

There are 737 people on Death Row at San Quentin State Prison, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Thirteen people have been executed since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978.

In 2016, California voters rejected Proposition 62, which called for repealing the death penalty. Voters also approved Proposition 66, which called for limiting death penalty appeals processes, which can drag on for decades.

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