Newsom made the unusual decision through an executive order.
Trump took to Twitter on March 13 to comment on what he sees as a poorly informed choice.
“Defying voters, the Governor of California will halt all death penalty executions of 737 stone cold killers. Friends and families of the always forgotten VICTIMS are not thrilled, and neither am I!” Trump wrote.
Defying voters, the Governor of California will halt all death penalty executions of 737 stone cold killers. Friends and families of the always forgotten VICTIMS are not thrilled, and neither am I!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 13, 2019
Newsom was expected to hold a press conference on Wednesday outlining the rationale for his decision.
“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 in a prepared statement obtained by news agencies. “In short, the death penalty is inconsistent with our bedrock values and strikes at the very heart of what it means to be a Californian.”
“Our death penalty system has been—by any measure—a failure,” Newsom added. “It has discriminated against defendants who are mentally ill, black and brown, or can’t afford expensive legal representation. It has provided no public safety benefit or value as a deterrent. It has wasted billions of taxpayer dollars.”
According to the state’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation death row list (pdf), 737 inmates were slated to be executed prior to the executive order.
Among those waiting on death row is Luis Bracamontes, an illegal immigrant who killed two law enforcement officers and said in court, “The only thing I [expletive] regret is I only killed two.”
Trump’s referral to defying voters was about two different attempts in the past six years to repeal the death penalty in California at the ballot box, both of which failed. One was Proposition 62, which was opposed by 53.1 percent of voters in 2016. Voters that year also favored fast-tracking the appeals process, speeding up convicted killers’ time on death row, through approving Proposition 66.
Some people cheered the decision.
We commend #California Governor @GavinNewsom on this common sense step. CA has the largest death row in the country. Their system has had multiple innocence issues and is overrun with issues of racial and socioeconomic bias. https://t.co/1HZdJFa6vu
— CCATDP (@CCATDP) March 13, 2019
“We commend California Governor Gavin Newsom on this common-sense step. CA has the largest death row in the country. Their system has had multiple innocence issues and is overrun with issues of racial and socioeconomic bias,” said Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty in a statement.
Others said it was “an abuse of power.”
“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,” Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the pro-death penalty Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, told the Los Angeles Times.
Newsom’s declaration also included an order to close the execution chamber at San Quentin State Prison and the withdrawal of a new execution protocol. Scheidegger said that Newsom can grant reprieves to condemned inmates but cannot order the closing of the death chamber or the halting of the effort to find a new lethal injection.
Because of a series of legal challenges to its method of lethal injection, California hasn’t executed a prisoner since 2006. Since the death penalty was reinstated by the Supreme Court in 1976, the state has executed 13 people. During that same time, 105 inmates have died from natural causes or suicide.
The death penalty spat was the latest between Newsom and Trump, who recently clashed over California wasting federal money on a high-speed rail project.