Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin Friday issued an official statement on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s imposition of a moratorium on executions of condemned prisoners in California, saying that the unilateral decision had “inflicted lasting damage to the rule of law.”
“Gov. Newsom … issued a blanket death penalty `reprieve’ for eligible inmates based on his own personal beliefs,” Hestrin said. “If this decision had been made by the people through their representatives, or the initiative process, I would have no problem with it. However, this reprieve has subverted the express will of the people.”
Newsom signed the executive order barring any exercise of capital punishment Wednesday because he said he felt “the intentional killing of another person is wrong.”
“As governor, I will not oversee the execution of any individual,” he said. “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. Most of all, the death penalty is absolute. It’s irreversible and irreparable in the event of human error.”
There are 737 individuals on Death Row at San Quentin State Prison, according to the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation. Thirteen people have been executed since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978, and 25 condemned prisoners have exhausted their state and federal appeals, making them eligible for an execution date.
Hestrin prosecuted multiple death penalty cases prior to his first election in 2014. The most prominent was Raymond Lee Oyler, who set a blaze south of Cabazon in 2006 that killed five federal firefighters. Along with Assistant District Attorney John Aki, Hestrin also put Riverside cop killer Earl Ellis Green on Death Row in 2012.
“Gov. Newsom’s abuse of power has opened fresh wounds for murder victims’ families and only serves to further delay, if not outright deny, just and deserving punishments for society’s very worst of the worst,” the county’s top prosecutor said.
“Where is the reprieve for 15-year-old Susan Jordan, who was attacked, raped and strangled while walking to school by previously convicted rapist Albert Brown?” Hestrin said, referring to a 1980 Riverside case. “Brown, who after raping and murdering Susan, called her family to taunt and torment them, telling her mother she would never see her daughter again and where to find her body.”
Hestrin also referenced Ronald Lee Deere, who gunned down Don Davis with his 7-year-old and 2-year-old daughters at a Riverside-area mobile home in 1982 because he was incensed that Davis’ sister-in-law had broken up with him.
Brown’s and Deere’s attorneys have exhausted all appeals, and both murderers were due for execution.
“The governor has disregarded the Supreme Court’s binding decisions, ignored constitutional constraints on his power and inflicted lasting damage to the rule of law,” Hestrin said.
In 2016, California voters rejected Proposition 62, which called for repealing the death penalty. Voters also approved Proposition 66, which called for limiting death penalty appeals processes, which can drag on for several decades, to five years.
However, the state Supreme Court later ruled that the measure functioned as a general guideline, not a mandate.
Hestrin said work by his office and other D.A.’s offices had bolstered “what the state’s voters had enacted through Prop 66,” clearing the way for executions to resume, until Newsom intervened.
“Victims’ families have been denied justice for far too long, and justice delayed is justice denied,” the veteran prosecutor said.