The top prosecutors for Riverside and Orange counties Thursday joined relatives of murder victims whose killers are on California’s Death Row, calling on Gov. Gavin Newsom to immediately end his “intolerable” moratorium on executions and honor the will of the people.
“This isn’t just about the death penalty. This is about the rule of law,” Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said. “Three times in the last seven years, the voters have spoken clearly that they want the death penalty in this state. Either we have the rule of law, or we don’t. One man, based on his own opinion, has subverted the will of the people. Until justice is done, we will never forget, and we will not get distracted. We will call for justice.”
Hestrin and Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer stood with murder victims’ relatives in front of the Victims’ Memorial Wall outside the D.A.’s office in downtown Riverside.
Since Newsom announced the moratorium on March 13, Hestrin and Spitzer have been vocally criticizing it in a “Victims of Murder Justice Tour,” which was most recently in Sacramento and is bound for San Diego next.
“With the stroke of a pen, the governor made a blanket decision to violate the constitutional rights of crime victims, as expressed in Marsy’s Law,” Spitzer said. “He did it because he’s a chicken. If he had followed the process under clemency review, he would have met with each of the victims’ families and heard them, as well as defense attorneys, before making a decision (on granting clemency to a condemned inmate).
“But he was a chicken because he didn’t want to hear the facts or know about the sadistic behavior of the individuals who engaged in these horrific murders.”
Governor’s spokesman Brian Ferguson told City News Service that Newsom believes “survivor families … deserve our state’s respect.” But he remains convinced that the criminal justice system “discriminates against defendants who are mentally ill, of color, or can’t afford expensive legal representation.”
For those reasons, and his concern over the possibility that a “wrongfully convicted” person may receive capital punishment, the governor believes executions should not occur, according to Ferguson.
Spitzer and Hestrin emphasized that death penalty cases are the most intensely vetted, at the trial and appellate court levels, leaving minimal margin for mistakes.
“These cases are reviewed six ways to Sunday, from every direction,” Spitzer said. “The whole world scrutinizes these cases, and the best lawyers are appointed to the inmates on appeal.”
Twenty-three Death Row inmates have exhausted their appeals and are awaiting execution.
“They are ripe and ready,” Spitzer said. “It is unconscionable for the governor not to follow the law. His arguments are fallacious.”
Among those due to be executed was Albert Brown, who raped and murdered 15-year-old Susan Jordan of Riverside on her way to school in 1980. Brown strangled Susan with her own shoelaces, leaving her face-down in an orange grove. He took her school ID and used that to find a phone listing for her mother, whom he called multiple times hours later, taunting her that her daughter would not come home and where to find her body.
“This killer has exhausted his appeals, proving that he deserves the sentence that the jury handed down 37 years ago,” said James Jordan, who was 7 years old when his sister was murdered. “We are denied justice. Our wounds never heal. We never get closure. Albert Brown continues to live. For my mother, the judicial system has failed her. She has lost hope.”
Joe Bonaminio, whose son, 27-year-old Riverside Police Officer Ryan Bonaminio, was beaten with a pipe and killed with his own firearm in November 2010, said he had no sympathy for the “bleeding hearts who say the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment.”
“The naysayers of this state never experience the pain we do,” Bonaminio said. “It’s important to keep the death penalty legal so justice can be served. I would tell the governor, `Just do your job.”‘
He doubted that he would live to see his son’s murderer, Earl Ellis Green, executed.
“The action of the governor is intolerable,” said Hestrin, who prosecuted Green. “The governor should have the decency to sit down and speak with these families before he makes a decision that impacts their lives.”
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 California in 1978.
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.