It was a tragic time in Palm Springs when two police officers were savagely murdered while they responded to a domestic disturbance, now a family member to one of the victims wants to know what happened to justice as the state’s governor places a halt on the death penalty.
The suspect accused of killing Officers Jose Gil Vega and Lesley Zerebny, 28-year-old John Hernandez Felix may face the death sentence if he is found guilty of murder.
However, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a moratorium on executions on the more than 700 inmates facing capital punishment.
The father-in-law of Officer Lesley Zerebny, Matt Zerebny sees justice differently than the governor.
Zerebny said, “If it was one of his children who was raped and murdered by some predator who’s done it several times, I wonder if his attitude would be different.”
It was not just the families of the victims who are shocked.
The Riverside County District Attorney, Mike Hestrin, whose office secured five death penalty sentence in the past year, also questions justice in Newsom’s executive decision.
“To safeguard the integrity of those convictions but ultimately to have those sentences carried out,” Hestrin said. “And now the governor ignores all of that and subverts the will of the people substituting his own beliefs and that does lasting damage to the rule of law.”
But Criminal defense attorneys see it differently.
John Patrick Dolan has represented many facing the death penalty, he believes Newsom’s announcement could create uncertainty among jurors.
Dolan said, “I don’t think it will affect the presumption of innocence but I can certainly see someone saying, why don’t we vote for the death penalty they’re not going to get it anyway.”
He said deaths by age are more common than by capital punishment for inmates on death row. The state has not executed inmates in the last 20 years.
He adds keeping a person in death row is more expensive than sentencing an inmate life in prison. The Death Penalty Information center estimates death row cases cost tax-payer more than $1.3 million compared to $700,000 in non-death penalty cases.
District Attorney Hestrin said he will continue to charge cases with capital punishment if it fits the crime.
At the same time, Californians have voted in the past to support the death penalty.
But for families who have been touched by violence like the Zerebny family, they still have hopes, though they say justice in this case, may have taken a back seat to politics.
Zerebny said, “I am all for forgiveness for people getting their acts together but when they’re defiant and I don’t care and say I am going to kill as many people as I can, there are people who cross the line who are just monsters that society just needs to deal with.”