SAN DIEGO — San Diego’s local, state and federal officials both praised and lambasted Gov. Gavin Newsom for his decision Wednesday to place a moratorium on the state’s death penalty.
The region’s largely Democratic legislative contingent supported the plan while some local legal officials criticized Newsom for making the state more lenient in its prosecution of murderers. San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephan suggested that families of violent crime victims would feel betrayed by the announcement.
Newsom cited the death penalty’s uneven targeting of people of color, its cost and the concern of giving executing someone who may actually be innocent. The state has 737 people on death row and has spent $5 billion since 1978 to execute 13 people, according to Newsom.
“Our death penalty system has been, by all measures, a failure,” Newsom said. “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.”
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, and Sen. Toni Atkins, D- San Diego, praised Newsom for his courage to make a decision that may not be politically popular across the board.
“This is an important first step in what will certainly be a long process but it is the right thing to do,” Atkins said. “I stand ready to work with the governor to put an end to the death penalty in California, once and for all.”
California is the fourth state to issue a moratorium on the death penalty, following Oregon, Colorado and Pennsylvania. The Washington State Supreme Court also struck down the state’s death penalty last year.
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, praised Newsom for his action and called the death penalty immoral and ineffective. Harris and Newsom have long been in each other’s orbits, with both moving from local government in San Francisco to working in the capitol before Harris sought a Senate seat in 2016.
“Between 1973 and 2016, for every 10 people executed, more than one person has been exonerated,” Harris said. “Killing one innocent person would be too many. It’s time to turn the page on this chapter and end a deeply flawed system of capital punishment in California.”
Sen. Pat Bates, R-Laguna Niguel, chided Newsom for circumventing the state’s voters, who voted against a repeal of the death penalty in 2016. More than 7 million voters, 53.15 percent of those that voted on the initiative, opted to keep the death penalty.
“The announcement benefits people like Randy Kraft who butchered at least 16 young men and Scott Peterson who was convicted of murdering his wife and their unborn child,” Bates said. “It sends the terrible message that the taking of innocent life will not be punished to the fullest extent of the law.”
Newsom’s executive order will repeal the state’s lethal injection protocols and will not alter the sentences of current convicts. The order also immediately closed San Quentin State Prison’s execution chamber.
“Today, Gov. Newsom showed courage by choosing not what is politically expedient, but rather what advances a culture rooted in radical kinship and beloved community,” the San Diego Organizing Project, a coalition of local faith congregations, said in a statement. “From our streets to our institutions, let us make sure this is step one in our journey towards becoming a state of belonging.”