'It's deeply moral to me': Gov. Gavin Newsom talks to ABC7 about decision to sign execution moratorium in California

Thursday, March 14, 2019
'It's deeply moral to me': Gov. Newsom explains death penalty decision
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Workers began dismantling the death chamber at San Quentin after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order, putting a moratorium on executions in California. In an interview with ABC7, the governor explained his reasoning behind the decision.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KGO) -- The death chamber at San Quentin Prison was shut down at the direction of Governor Gavin Newsom, who signed an executive order Wednesday morning putting a moratorium on executions in California.

RELATED: Rare look inside San Quentin Prison, home of death row

The governor's office tweeted out pictures of the new signs saying the death chamber is closed, and of guards carrying away the lethal injection equipment.

Newsom explained his reasoning in a one-on-one interview with ABC7's Eric Thomas.

Thomas: "The Gavin Newsom moratorium on the death penalty, why?"

Newsom: "I just think it's the right thing to do. I can't square this fundamental fact, that we have people on death row today that are innocent. If you think that's hyperbolic, I hope you will consider that just last year, we had someone who served 26 years on death row that was exonerated, that was innocent."

That was the case of Vicente Benavides, convicted in 1993 of sexually assaulting and killing a 21-month-old girl. The California Supreme Court overturned that conviction and freed him from San Quentin last year.

RELATED: Gov. Newsom plans to halt executions in California

When asked how much of this is a moral objection and how much is political, Newsom said, "It's moral, it's deeply moral to me."

Those among the 737 people on California's death row include:

  • Scott Peterson, convicted of murdering his pregnant wife and their unborn son.
  • Serial killer Charles Ng, convicted of 11 murders in Calaveras County
  • Richard Allen Davis, kidnapper and killer of Polly Klaas in the North Bay in 1993.

When asked if he's prepared for pushback from victim's families and victim advocates, the governor said, "Good people can disagree. It is deeply held, deeply personal. But, state-sanctioned, premeditated killing, I just can do it, I can't sign executions."

President Donald Trump tweeted that Newsom was defying the will of the voters, who narrowly approved a measure to speed up executions in 2016. Newsom says no one will be released from prison because of his executive order.

Thomas: "Is there no murder brutal enough or heinous enough for you to reconsider?"

Newsom: "I read 200 death row reports. It will turn your stomach, make you sick that human beings are capable of such vile violence., I have no empathy for those that are guilty. I really don't, at the same I cannot support premediated, state-sponsored murder."

See more stories on the death penalty.