Santa Clara Co. district attorney moves to resentence death row inmates to life without parole

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Saturday, April 6, 2024
Santa Clara Co. DA resentences death row inmates to life in prison
Santa Clara County DA Jeff Rosen moves to resentence death row inmates to life in prison after changing his stance on the death penalty.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- As San Quentin undergoes a philosophical and physical transformation from a maximum security prison to a rehabilitation center, the death penalty as we once viewed it is changing.

Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen has changed his stance and is now calling to change the sentence of 15 death row inmates.

The finality of death makes the death penalty something criminal justice reformists want to move away from.

Rosen once supported capital punishment as a prosecutor.

MORE: San Quentin seeks to clear out death row inmates by July

But now, he's says he's learned the question is not whether a person deserves to die, but whether society should have the power to impose that sentence.

"In terms of judges and juries, they're going to decide where a person dies and that's going to be in prison for the rest of their lives," Rosen said. "In terms of when that person is going to die, that's going to be God's decision."

Rosen stopped seeking the death penalty in 2020, because he saw a lack of fairness in the criminal justice system. Now, he's taking another step towards reform.

Rosen petitioned to resentence Santa Clara County inmates from death row to life without parole.

"If it's not fair to seek the death penalty against someone for committing a certain kind of crime today, then it wasn't fair to sentence that person to death for that same kind of crime 20 years ago," Rosen said.

MORE: San Quentin State Prison could soon be transformed into a rehab space and eliminate death row

Only two men received the death penalty since Rosen was elected DA 13 years ago: Melvin Forte in 2011 and Rodrigo Paniagua Junior in 2010, just before Rosen took office.

In total, 15 men will now be given the opportunity of resentencing.

"I think for our community, life without the possibility of parole in prison will both protect our community and strengthen our criminal justice system and put it on firmer grounds," Rosen said.

Rosen's office sent letters to notify families and friends of victims in these cases.

MORE: Here's a look at the transformation of San Quentin State Prison

The California Victims Resource Center says this news may come as a shock to them.

"It wasn't something that was expected," CVRC Exec. Director Mariam Elmenshawi said. "They were never notified that this was going to be a possible option that may happen in the future. So, it is really triggering, and it shakes the foundation of what they were once certain about."

Elmenshawi says it's important for victims to know their rights.

Marsy's Law allows them to speak out against a resentence as a court ultimately decides the fate of these men.

If you are in need of victim advocacy you can call 1-800-victims for support or visit the California Victims Resource Center website here.

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