Death penalty opponents applaud sudden moratorium in California

Gov. Gavin Newsom signs the executive order placing a moratorium on the death penalty at his Capitol office Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Gavin Newsom, the Democratic governor of California, announced a moratorium on the application of the death penalty in his state on March 12, a plan received warmly by Catholic leaders and denounced by President Trump on Twitter.

Mr. Newsom, a Catholic, remarked to the press that he decided to suspend executions when he realized “it’s not an abstract question any longer,” upon being elected governor last November. He said he “cannot sign off on executing hundreds and hundreds of human beings.”

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“The intentional killing of another person is wrong and as governor, I will not oversee the execution of any individual,” Mr. Newsom said as he signed the executive order beginning the moratorium on executions on March 13. “Our death penalty system has been, by all measures, a failure. 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. Most of all, the death penalty is absolute. It’s irreversible and irreparable in the event of human error.”

“The intentional killing of another person is wrong and as governor, I will not oversee the execution of any individual.”

“Today’s declaration is a bold step toward abolishing a broken system that fails to protect the inviolable dignity of the human person,” said Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, according to a statement from the Catholic Mobilizing Network. Ms. Murphy is the executive director of the organization, whose work is centered on restorative justice and anti-death-penalty advocacy.

Mr. Newsom’s office says that the state of California has the largest death row population in the Western Hemisphere, at 737 people, and that three other U.S. governors have suspended capital punishment through executive orders. California voters rejected an initiative to abolish the death penalty by a 54-46 margin in 2016 and also voted against a repeal in 2012. The state has not carried out an execution since 2006.

In August 2018, Pope Francis revised the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the death penalty to declare the practice “inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”

Nationally, public support for the death penalty has declined sharply over the past two decades, leveling off at slightly more than 50 percent. Opposition more than doubled between 1996 and 2018, to just under 40 percent, according to the Pew Research Center.

“These trends, which span the judicial, legislative, and executive offices of states across the U.S., punctuate the long-term decline in support for capital punishment among the American public, and Catholics in particular,” the Catholic Mobilizing Network claimed in its public statement. (In 2018, however, the Pew Research Center reported that Catholics supported the death penalty at about the same rate as did the overall public.)

California archdioceses have also applauded Mr. Newsom’s announcement. Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles called the decision an important “first step.”

“We need to continue to address the inequities in our criminal justice system,” he said in a statement, “to improve conditions in our prisons, and to provide alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent crimes. We need to keep looking for new ways to rehabilitate offenders so they can be restored to society and lead productive and dignified lives.”

Democratic Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala D. Harris of California, both candidates in the upcoming 2020 presidential contest, each tweeted their praise for the decision.

Sister Helen Prejean, the anti-death-penalty activist and author of the book Dead Man Walking, was similarly pleased with the decision. “I’ve been flying in and out of California for 30-plus years to join with stalwart souls working to wake people up to the futility and horror of the death penalty,” she tweeted. “These dedicated abolitionists deserve much of the credit for this momentous announcement.”

Sister Prejean also tweeted, “Gov. Newsom is also using his full executive power to deal two other blows to California’s machinery of death: he has ordered the execution chamber at San Quentin to be torn down, and he is withdrawing the state’s lethal injection protocol.”

Democratic Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala D. Harris of California, both candidates in the upcoming 2020 presidential contest, each tweeted their praise for the decision. But the president, Mr. Newsom’s most high-profile political antagonist, expressed indignation. At 4:39 a.m. on March 13, Mr. Trump tweeted: “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!”

Mr. Newsom signed his executive order later that morning.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Trent Shannon
8 months 1 week ago

Thou shalt not kill

Christopher Lochner
8 months 1 week ago

Ahhh, if only this was a part of the message then I might be accepting of it. What we ARE hearing is, "the State shouldn't kill" but for the rest of us then: no harm/no foul-mercy-inherent dignity-done the dirty deed/who cares?-what victims?-send me money-visit my website-it's the rotten system, Jim.... What we rarely hear is concepts such as evil or sin. It's Jesus-lite for modern consumption. The old Nazi leaders, Pol Pot, and Mao would've been given hugs, wait, sorry, they're not currently popular so maybe not. But didn't Dorothy Day admire Mao? So a prospective Saint admired a leader responsible for state executions! She claimed that Marx and Mao "were animated by the love of brother..." and Mao executed from 40 to 50 million people! Weird, ehh? I would say, "unspeakable!"

Crystal Watson
8 months 1 week ago

My governor :)

Paul Leingang
8 months 1 week ago

The Association of US Catholic Priests, about 1200 priest-members and more than 150 supporting friends, sent a letter March 14 to Governor Newsom to commend his action. The letter cited the long-held position of the American bishops and Pope Francis.

Sha'Pearl Jones
8 months 1 week ago

What a brave stance Governor Hollywood has taken. The lives of convicted criminals matter more than those of innocent unborn children. How disgusting!

Tim Donovan
8 months 1 week ago

I agree that it's contradictory to favor killing the innocent by legal abortion but oppose killing those convicted of having committed a serious crime. However, there are people (including me) who oppose both forms of violence. So, too, does Sister Helen Prejean. The following is a quote from Sister Helen from the Consistent Ethic Network website. She said, "I stand morally opposed to killing: war, executions, killing of the old and demented, the killing of children, unborn and born...I believe that all life is sacred and must be protected, especially in the vulnerable stages at the beginning of life and its end."

Tim Donovan
8 months 1 week ago

I agree that it's contradictory to favor killing the innocent by legal abortion but oppose killing those convicted of having committed a serious crime. However, there are people (including me) who oppose both forms of violence. So, too, does Sister Helen Prejean. The following is a quote from Sister Helen from the Consistent Ethic Network website. She said, "I stand morally opposed to killing: war, executions, killing of the old and demented, the killing of children, unborn and born...I believe that all life is sacred and must be protected, especially in the vulnerable stages at the beginning of life and its end."

FRAN ABBOTT
8 months 1 week ago

Congratulations to Governor Newsom for following his conscience and having the guts to take this step! Life is life and the Catholic position is to hate the crime but love and forgive the sinner. I hope this gives other governors the courage to follow suit.

Tim Donovan
8 months 1 week ago

I am against capital punishment regardless of the crime. According to an article in Our Sunday Visitor (March 14, 2019), Archbishop Gomez also asserted that the death penalty "deprieves that person of the chance to change his or her heart," and I agree. For years, I've been a pen pal with a man serving life in prison for a serious crime. From our correspondence, I'm convinced that my friend, who is a devout Jehovah's Witness, has reformed. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, a 2011 study estimated that California had spent more than $4 billion on death penalty trials, appeals, and incarceration. Furthermore, it was estimated that if California abolished the death penalty, each year the state would save $170 million. Surely, that money could be better spent on counseling for victims of crime, and rehabilitation programs for prisoners. Governor Newsom also noted (according to the previously mentioned article in Our Sunday Visitor) that 164 wrongly convicted prisoners had ben exonerated from our nation's death rows since 1973. It,'s certainly very disturbing that innocent people could be killed. I do receive e-mails from the Catholic Mobilizing Network regarding death row inmates, and do send messages to the the relevant authorities (governors or clemency boards) requesting that they grant clemency to those about to be killed by execution. However, it should be noted that Governor Newsom staunchly favors the violence of legal abortion. It's tragic that he fails to see the killing of almost 1 million innocent unborn human beings as a terrible violation of the right to life.

Christopher Lochner
8 months 1 week ago

So you'd readily forgive the New Zealand Mosque murderer? Do you really think he should be rehabbed? Do you agree with the stance of Francis which is no death/ no life without parole/ no life/ no extended sentence since it would be really, really mean?

FRAN ABBOTT
8 months 1 week ago

As you well know, meanness has nothing to do with it. And yes, our Christianity demands that we forgive the same way that Jesus forgave those who put him to death. Christians are not vengeful.

FRAN ABBOTT
8 months 1 week ago

X

FRAN ABBOTT
8 months 1 week ago

X

FRAN ABBOTT
8 months 1 week ago

X

Tim Donovan
8 months 1 week ago

Hello, Mr. Lochner. I believe that any form of deliberate violence is difficult to comprehend, so no, I don't find it easy to forgive the murderer of the Muslims, especially when they were praying. However, Jesus taught us to love our enemies. He asked , "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them." ( Luke 6: 32). " However, if one of my loved ones was murdered, I hope I would be given the gift of the Holy Spirit of fortitude and not want anyone to be killed by capital punishment. I do oppose capital punishment under all circumstances, as does Pope Francis. However, I do believe that a sentence of life in prison for murder is a reasonable alternative to capital punishment. My only caveat is that the man or woman in prison not be mistreated, and be provided with the necessities of life (decent food, clothing, shelter, bedding, no solitary confinement as a ounishment, and adequate health care). Of course, it's true that more than a few law abiding citizens don't enjoy decent food, clothing or are homeless, and lack decent medical care. I can only suggest that our elected officials redirect funding from (for example) some military programs to social services for the many Americans who lack the basic necessities of life. Yesterday, I received a letter from my pen pal who's serving life in prison for a serious crime. He tells me that he feels it's necessary for him to keep to himself and a few other members of his faith (he's a devout Jehovah's Witness). rather than be involved with some prisoners who are responsible for many serious problems in his cellblock. He mentioned that "young ones" in his view are frequently the inmates responsible for causing the prison warden to "lock down" the prison. Honestly, I'm not sure what it means when the prison is "locked down." I assume it's some some if restriction or punishment. I'd appreciate it if anyone could please inform me. I will ask my prisoner pen pal the next time I write to him. Finally, my friend despite serving a sentence of over 40 years in prison in my opinion from our correspondence has reformed his life. Frankly, I don't know enough about his crime to know if he deserves to be released from prison. Perhaps yes; maybe no. Again, I think Jesus, who was very merciful, may have, if He lived today and had the authority , grant clemency to my pen pal. After all, Jesus told one of the two thieves when He was being crucified (traditionally named Dismas, the "good thief") that He would see him in paradise.

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