Questions for Gavin Newsom About the Death Penalty Moratorium

Collage of murder victims

Dear Gavin Newsom:

You put a moratorium on the death penalty and dismantled the execution chambers. You have not said how you plan to handle those who are convicted in capital murder cases other than to release them to the general prison population. What follows are four questions that anyone making a decision on the death penalty should be able to answer. Please answer these questions.

1. Punishing the most heinous murders

People on death row are convicted of heinous and disgusting crimes that involve extreme terror and torture followed by the most repugnant forms of murder.

Have you listened to the entire recording of Shirley Lynette Ledford?

2. Public safety both inside and outside of prison

You said, “You as taxpayers have spent $5 billion — $5 billion — since we reinstated the death penalty in this state.” You also said inmates will possibly be transferred back into the state’s general prison population. The costs you oppose have been spread over hundreds of cases since 1978 and include California’s death row costs from housing to medical care, as well as the state-sponsored cost of fighting convictions.

Housing the heinous murderers is expensive because they are dangerous and require a restrictive living environment. These murderers do not stop killing after they are sent to prison and they must be well-controlled. There is a cost for that. In prison, gang members continue to take part in gangs and many inmates live in the Adjustment Center because they are too dangerous for the Condemned Row.

There was a recent homicide last October and two suicides last November at San Quentin’s death row, suggesting that death row is not restrictive enough. Before he was executed, Clarence Ray Allen ordered the massacre of witnesses against him from within prison after he was convicted of murder. Death row inmate, Kevin Cooper, alleges that Allen also ordered the hatchet massacre of the Ryen family from within prison.

Without the death penalty and the high cost of death row housing, what is your plan to house heinous murderers?

3. Exonerating the innocent

You said, “One out of every 25 people on death row is innocent.” A few people sentenced to the death in California have been exonerated. One of your oppositions is that death sentences are expensive. It is true there is a high cost for state-sponsored resources guaranteed to those sentenced to death to fight their convictions as long as they are facing execution. Removing the threat of execution also removes the automatic appeals and state-funded legal support that inmates have used to win exonerations.

Vicente Benavides Figueroa was wrongly convicted and sentenced to death in 1993 on charges that he had raped, anally sodomized, and murdered his girlfriend’s 21-month-old daughter. He was exonerated on April 19, 2018, because he was sentenced to death and given state-sponsored resources to fight his case. If he was sentenced to life without parole, he would remain in prison for the rest of his life because, as a farm worker, he would not have the funds necessary to fight his case and to order reviews of the evidence that led to The California Supreme Court granting him a new trial. The girl, the court said, had never been sexually assaulted and may actually have died from being hit by a car.

“Only inmates on death row are guaranteed an attorney for their appeals—and a review of their trial process by a federal court that considers factors like attorney incompetence, potential procedural errors, and racial bias. Death row inmates are also granted more funding for their attorneys to investigate their cases and retain expert witnesses.” (Mother Jones)

Without legislation ordering automatic appeals and state-sponsored legal support, how will you assure that innocent people are exonerated?

4. Compassion for the victims and their families

You said, March 25 at 11:22 AM, “In one week, two Parkland survivors and the father of a Sandy Hook victim have taken their lives.” You then went on to attack guns. In 1987, Lt. Paul Bynum took his own life because he was afraid that Lawrence Sigmund Bittaker and Roy Lewis Norris would be released from prison one day and come after him and his family.

You have said that you want people on death row, like Bittaker, to be released to the general prison population. It is true, that people in prison do order contract murder just as Clarence Ray Allen did. With your relaxed view toward heinous murderers, it may be possible that Norris will get the parole he wants. He and Bittaker are white men who did not use guns in their rape, torture, and killing of teenage girls.

Norris described the recording he and Bittaker made, “We’ve all heard women scream in horror films ... still, we know that no-one is really screaming. Why? Simply because an actress can’t produce some sounds that convince us that something vile and heinous is happening. If you ever heard that tape, there is just no possible way that you’d not begin crying and trembling. I doubt you could listen to more than a full sixty seconds of it.”

“Norris brought back sandwiches and Bittaker gave him a stack of Polaroid photos. All were stages of Hall’s pain and death. “I told her I was going to kill her to see what kind of argument she’d have for staying alive,” Bittaker said, gesturing to the mutilated girl. “She didn’t have much of an argument.” Norris couldn’t help noticing an ice pick plunged into her ear. It wasn’t fatal,” Bittaker said. “She also had to be strangled.” It wasn’t fatal, but not because he hadn’t tried. Bittaker had pushed the ice pick into one ear, all the way into her brain, but she was still alive. Then he turned Hall over to do the same to her other ear, stomping with his foot until the ice pick penetrated completely and the handle broke. But the girl was still breathing until the wire snapped.” –Description of the murder of Andreas Hall.

Without the death penalty and released in the general population, killers can stalk the families of the victims and the survivors who escaped the killers. They can also find ways to kill again while in prison and to torment more families. This reality has caused people to commit suicide and it could lead to more suicides.

Why are you not compassionate when you propose unleashing the hell of leniency for heinous murderers against survivors and families of victims?