Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order Wednesday halting the executions of 737 death row prisoners in the state, repealed California’s lethal injection protocols and shuttered the San Quentin State Prison execution chamber.
Of the 737 condemned inmates, who now have stays of execution, 25 of them had their trial in Santa Clara County.
Silicon Valley lawmakers on Wednesday largely applauded the governor’s bold decision.
“The death penalty is an outdated, cruel and inhumane form of corporal punishment that has no place in society today,” San Jose Assemblyman Ash Kalra said. “It is an irreversible act that is used to implement a form of punishment rendered through a process that is vulnerable to bias and prejudice.”
He added that capital punishment is no deterrent to crime and doesn’t reflect “society’s values of forgiveness, rehabilitation and justice.”
“In many respects it is an act of pure vengeance; one that is a product of violence, not a solution to it,” Kalra added.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo indicated his support for abolishing the death penalty, as did Vice Mayor Chappie Jones.
“I have long had concerns about the fairness of the death penalty and especially how it is applied to communities of color,” said Jones, adding that he’s not yet been fully briefed on the executive order and its implications. “The governor’s action can create a real opportunity for serious debate on the continuation of a practice that has been abandoned by most industrialized countries.”
Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese said the “death penalty generally has no place in civil society anymore,” though he acknowledged potential exceptions for some homicides and the murder of police officers.
“I think it’s good news,” Cortese said Wednesday. “I’m happy to see the governor act on this issue. I think that the bottom line is that people are concerned about public safety — I am too. I think that with me, along with many other elected officials in our community, there’s a strong sense that public safety comes first, but there isn’t a public benefit on capital punishment.”
During a news conference Wednesday, Newsom told reporters the order is a choice “to advance justice in a different way.”
“You as taxpayers have spent $5 billion since we reinstated the death penalty in this state,” Newsom said. “What have we gotten for that?”
“That means if we move forward with executing 737 people in California, we will have executed roughly 30 people that are innocent,” Newsom said. “I don’t know about you. I can’t sign my name to that. I can’t be party to that. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night.”
A U.S. Supreme Court case halted executions throughout the country from 1972 to 1976, until another case overruled the precedent and reopened executions for states.
Since capital punishment resumed, the U.S. has executed a total of 1,493 prisoners since 1976. California has executed a total of 13 prisoners and holds the highest population of death row inmates, who now have stays of execution under the governor’s order.
In 2016, California voters approved Proposition 66, which sped up the death penalty process and rejected another measure, Prop. 62, to repeal the death penalty altogether.
Silicon Valley entrepreneur and Stanford professor Nick McKeown contributed $1.5 million to repeal the death penalty more than two years ago. He said Wednesday he was “thrilled and delighted” by the news of Newsom’s order.
“I’m no legal expert, and I’m not a politician either, just merely a fan and supporter of the movement to end the death penalty,” McKeown told San José Spotlight. “And I’m just super thrilled and excited that Governor Newsom is being so bold and courageous.”
The last person to be executed in California, convicted murderer Clarence Allen, died by lethal injection Jan. 17, 2006.
Texas administered the country’s most recent execution this year when Billie Coble died Feb. 28, also by lethal injection. California is one of 30 states with the death penalty, but on Wednesday became one just of four states with a governor-imposed moratorium.
Reporter Nadia Lopez contributed to this report.
Contact Kyle Martin at [email protected] or follow him @Kyle_Martin35 on Twitter.