Trump clobbers California Gov. Gavin Newsom over death-penalty moratorium

President Donald Trump attacked California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday after the Democrat halted the execution of hunreds of condemned inmates on the nation’s largest death row.

Newsom’s office said Tuesday that he will issue an executive order granting a reprieve to each of the state’s condemned inmates, guaranteeing them a reprieve for at least as long as he’s governor.

He’s also withdrawing the lethal injection regulations that death penalty opponents have already tied up in court. And he’s shuttering the new execution chamber at San Quentin State Prison that has never been used. 

‘Defying voters, the Governor of California will halt all death penalty executions of 737 stone cold killers,’ Trump complained on Twitter. 

‘Friends and families of the always forgotten VICTIMS are not thrilled, and neither am I!’

California hasn’t executed anyone since 2006, under then-Republican Gov Arnold Schwarzenegger, and death row inmates are far more likely to die of old age.

The state’s voters have narrowly supported the death penalty, most recently in 2016 when they voted to speed up the process.  

President Donald Trump clobbered California's Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom on Wednesday over his decision to halt all executions in the Golden State: 'Friends and families of the always forgotten VICTIMS are not thrilled, and neither am I!'

President Donald Trump clobbered California's Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom on Wednesday over his decision to halt all executions in the Golden State: 'Friends and families of the always forgotten VICTIMS are not thrilled, and neither am I!'

President Donald Trump clobbered California’s Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom on Wednesday over his decision to halt all executions in the Golden State: ‘Friends and families of the always forgotten VICTIMS are not thrilled, and neither am I!’

Newsom is halting the executions of 737 condemned inmates on the nation's largest death row, his office announced on Tuesday

Newsom is halting the executions of 737 condemned inmates on the nation's largest death row, his office announced on Tuesday

Newsom is halting the executions of 737 condemned inmates on the nation’s largest death row, his office announced on Tuesday

Trump tweeted Wednesday about that '737 stone cold killers' whose executions will be abandoned in the Golden State

Trump tweeted Wednesday about that '737 stone cold killers' whose executions will be abandoned in the Golden State

Trump tweeted Wednesday about that ‘737 stone cold killers’ whose executions will be abandoned in the Golden State

Since California's last execution in 2006, the state's death rows have grown to house one of every four condemned inmates in the US. A condemned inmate can be seen above as he's led out of his east block cell on death row at San Quentin State Prison in 2016 (file photo)

Since California's last execution in 2006, the state's death rows have grown to house one of every four condemned inmates in the US. A condemned inmate can be seen above as he's led out of his east block cell on death row at San Quentin State Prison in 2016 (file photo)

Since California’s last execution in 2006, the state’s death rows have grown to house one of every four condemned inmates in the US. A condemned inmate can be seen above as he’s led out of his east block cell on death row at San Quentin State Prison in 2016 (file photo)

California’s condemned population is now the nation’s largest, representing one-quarter of those awaiting execution in the United States. 

They include Richard Davis, who kidnapped 12-year-old Polly Klaas during a slumber party and strangled her, and Lonnie Franklin Jr, convicted of killing nine women and a teenage girl in Los Angeles. He’s known as the ‘Grim Sleeper’ because detectives thought he took a 14-year break in killing between 1988 and 2002.

Newsom’s office said he can act unilaterally because he’s enacting a moratorium, not changing anyone’s sentence. He’s not commuting any death sentences, which in many cases would require agreement from the state Supreme Court. 

A governor needs approval from the state Supreme Court to pardon or commute the sentence of anyone twice convicted of a felony, and the justices last year blocked several clemency requests by former Gov Jerry Brown.

While the governor’s move is certain to be challenged in court, aides cite his power to grant reprieves written into the state Constitution.

‘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 prepared remarks. 

‘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.’

He called the death penalty ‘a failure’ that ‘has discriminated against defendants who are mentally ill, black and brown, or can’t afford expensive legal representation.’

He also argues that it doesn’t act as a deterrent, wastes taxpayer dollars and is flawed because it is ‘irreversible and irreparable in the event of human error.’ California has spent $5 billion since 1978 on its death row, he said.

‘The intentional killing of another person is wrong,’ he said, ‘and as governor, I will not oversee the execution of any individual.’

His office said more than six in 10 condemned California inmates are minorities, citing racial disparities in who is sentenced to die. And it said five condemned California inmates were eventually exonerated since 1973.

Kim Kardashian West tweeted about Newsom’s announcement on Tuesday night, writing: ‘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.’ 

Kim Kardashian West tweeted about Newsom's announcement on Tuesday night

Kim Kardashian West tweeted about Newsom's announcement on Tuesday night

Kim Kardashian West tweeted about Newsom’s announcement on Tuesday night

Gov Newsom is also withdrawing the lethal injection regulations that death penalty opponents have already tied up in court and will shutter the new execution chamber at San Quentin State Prison that has never been used

Gov Newsom is also withdrawing the lethal injection regulations that death penalty opponents have already tied up in court and will shutter the new execution chamber at San Quentin State Prison that has never been used

Gov Newsom is also withdrawing the lethal injection regulations that death penalty opponents have already tied up in court and will shutter the new execution chamber at San Quentin State Prison that has never been used

California is the sixth state where a governor has enacted a moratorium. Republican Illinois Gov George Ryan was the first to do so in 2000, though Illinois has since abolished the death penalty.

The governors of Pennsylvania, Washington and Oregon have imposed moratoriums on executions, and the former Colorado governor refused to execute someone on death row. The state’s new governor supports a repeal bill in the Legislature.

Newsom, a Democrat, told reporters earlier this month that he ‘never believed in the death penalty from a moral perspective,’ also citing ethical and economic concerns. He said he’s campaigned ‘vigorously’ for the last two ballot measures where voters rejected repealing the death penalty.

‘The disparities are very real and raw to me now especially as I spend every week working on the issues of paroles and commutations,’ he said.

Newsom cited one offender serving a sentence of 57 years-to-life for injuring three people, while another offender was sentenced to 17 years-to-life for a double murder: ‘One happened to be of one race, one happened to be another race. Other people I’ve seen literally put to death for lesser crimes, and that concerns me.’

Former Democratic Gov Brown also opposed the death penalty, but his administration moved to restart executions after voters acted in 2016 to allow the use of a single lethal injection and speed up appeals. His administration’s regulations are stalled by challenges in both state and federal court, though those lawsuits may be halted now that Newsom is officially withdrawing them.

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Brown said he was satisfied with his record number of pardons and commutations, though he never attempted to commute a death sentence, and with his sweeping changes that eased criminal penalties while reducing the prison population.

‘I’ve done what I want to do,’ Brown said shortly before leaving office, defending his decision not to endorse death penalty repeal efforts in 2012 and 2016. ‘I’ve carved out my piece of all this.’

Democratic Assemblyman Marc Levine of Greenbrae plans to seek the two-thirds vote the Legislature requires to put another repeal measure on the 2020 ballot. Levine’s district includes San Quentin State Prison, which houses California’s death row and execution chamber.

Newsom’s aides said it has not yet been decided what will become of the execution chamber, nor whether corrections officials have been told to top preparing for executions, for instance by running drills.

Seventy-nine condemned California inmates have died of natural causes since California reinstated capital punishment in 1978. Another 26 committed suicide. California has executed 13 inmates, while two were executed in other states.

Newsom’s office said 25 condemned inmates have exhausted all of their appeals and could soon have faced execution if the courts approved the state’s new lethal injection method.

NOTABLE INMATES ON CALIFORNIA’S DEATH ROW

California Gov Gavin Newsom is placing a moratorium on executions in the state. Here are some notable inmates out of more than 700 people on the nation’s largest death row: 

Rodney James Alcala

Prosecutors said Alcala, now 75, stalked women like prey and took earrings as trophies from some of his victims after they died. He was sentenced to death in 2010 for five murders in California between 1977 and 1979. In 2013, he received an additional 25 years to life after pleading guilty to two homicides in New York. Investigators say his true victim count many never be known.

Rodney James Alcala was sentenced to death in 2010 for five murders in California between 1977 and 1979

Rodney James Alcala was sentenced to death in 2010 for five murders in California between 1977 and 1979

Rodney James Alcala was sentenced to death in 2010 for five murders in California between 1977 and 1979

Vincent Brothers

A former high school vice principal, Brothers was convicted of killing his wife, their three young children and his mother-in-law. Prosecutors said he attempted to create an alibi by flying to Columbus, Ohio, with the pretext of visiting his brother. He then drove his rental car to Bakersfield, California, to carry out the killings and returned to Ohio. Now 57, he’s been on San Quentin’s death row since 2007.

Vincent Brothers (above in 2003) was convicted of killing his wife, their three young children and his mother-in-law

Vincent Brothers (above in 2003) was convicted of killing his wife, their three young children and his mother-in-law

Vincent Brothers (above in 2003) was convicted of killing his wife, their three young children and his mother-in-law

Richard Allen Davis

Now 64, Davis has been on death row at San Quentin State Prison since his 1996 conviction in the kidnap-murder of 12-year-old Polly Klaas of Petaluma, California. The case helped gain support for California’s ‘three-strikes law’ for repeat offenders.

Richard Allen Davis (above in 1993) has been on death row at San Quentin State Prison since his 1996 conviction in the kidnap-murder of 12-year-old Polly Klaas

Richard Allen Davis (above in 1993) has been on death row at San Quentin State Prison since his 1996 conviction in the kidnap-murder of 12-year-old Polly Klaas

Richard Allen Davis (above in 1993) has been on death row at San Quentin State Prison since his 1996 conviction in the kidnap-murder of 12-year-old Polly Klaas

Lonnie Franklin

A serial killer nicknamed the ‘Grim Sleeper,’ Franklin was convicted in 2016 for killing nine women and a teenage girl in Los Angeles dating back to the 1980s. He was linked at trial to 14 slayings, including four women he wasn’t charged with killing. Police have said Franklin, now 66, may have had as many as 25 victims.

Lonnie Franklin Jr (above in 2016), a convicted serial killer known as the 'Grim Sleeper', was sentenced to death for 10 Los Angeles murders that spanned decades

Lonnie Franklin Jr (above in 2016), a convicted serial killer known as the 'Grim Sleeper', was sentenced to death for 10 Los Angeles murders that spanned decades

Lonnie Franklin Jr (above in 2016), a convicted serial killer known as the ‘Grim Sleeper’, was sentenced to death for 10 Los Angeles murders that spanned decades

Charles Ng

Ng was convicted along with an accomplice, Leonard Lake, of killing 11 people at a cabin in the Sierra Nevada foothills during the 1980s. Lake killed himself in 1985. Ng’s prosecution cost California approximately $20million, at the time the most expensive trial in state history. Now 58, Ng is housed at San Quentin.

Charles Ng was convicted of killing 11 people at a cabin in the Sierra Nevada foothills during the 1980

Charles Ng was convicted of killing 11 people at a cabin in the Sierra Nevada foothills during the 1980

Charles Ng was convicted of killing 11 people at a cabin in the Sierra Nevada foothills during the 1980 

Scott Peterson

After he reported his pregnant wife missing on Christmas Eve 2002, police pursued nearly 10,000 tips, and looked at parolees and convicted sex offenders as possible suspects. Ultimately Scott Peterson was arrested and convicted of the first-degree murder of Laci Peterson and the second-degree murder of their unborn son, Conner, in Modesto, California. Now 46, he’s housed at San Quentin.

Scott Peterson (above in 2005) was sentenced to death for murdering his pregnant wife, Laci

Scott Peterson (above in 2005) was sentenced to death for murdering his pregnant wife, Laci

Scott Peterson (above in 2005) was sentenced to death for murdering his pregnant wife, Laci

Angelina Rodriguez

Her husband’s death was initially ruled undetermined, which meant Angelina Rodriguez was ineligible for a payout on his life insurance. After she pushed for more testing, it was determined that Frank Rodriguez died from antifreeze poisoning. Angelina Rodriguez was arrested for his murder and convicted in 2004. She was also accused – but never convicted – of killing her infant daughter in 1993. 

Angelina Rodriguez was convicted of killing her husband in 2004

Angelina Rodriguez was convicted of killing her husband in 2004

Angelina Rodriguez was convicted of killing her husband in 2004

Reporting by The Associated Press 

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