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Brown Urged To Save 740 Death Row Inmates By Other Governors

Patch logo Patch 12/16/2018 Paige Austin
Jerry Brown wearing a suit and tie © Provided by Planck, LLC, d/b/a Patch Media

LOS ANGELES, CA — Gov. Jerry Brown may be a lame duck three weeks away from a quiet life on his ranch, but first he has a life-or-death decision to make.

Should he spare the lives of 740 men and women awaiting execution in California? This week, six former governor’s penned a letter published in the New York Times urging the Golden State governor to do just that.

Brown’s office has declined to comment on the issue, and it’s difficult to infer his stance. California’s four-term governor has embraced justice reform, but clemency has not been a signature issue for him. In fact, he’s spent his last year in office resisting calls to reconsider the case of condemned inmate Kevin Cooper, whose prominent supporters claim is the victim of a frame-up.

Either way, his decision is bound to be controversial. The six former governor’s appealing to Brown know that as well as anyone. Each halted executions before leaving office.

“Among a governor’s many powers, none is more significant than signing a death warrant. It’s a terrible responsibility, hard even to imagine until you’re asked to carry it out, as we were. But we became convinced that it wasn’t something a civilized society should ask of its leaders,” wrote Former Democratic Govs. John Kitzhaber, of Oregon; Martin O’Malley, of Maryland; Richard Celeste, of Ohio; Bill Richardson, of New Mexico; Toney Anaya, of New Mexico and Pat Quinn, of Illinois. “That’s why we halted executions in our states, and we call on Gov. Jerry Brown of California to do the same.”

The group went on to appeal to the governor’s pride in his own legacy.

“Mr. Brown has the power to commute the sentences of 740 men and women, to save 740 lives. Or, he can declare a moratorium on the death penalty and give Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom the time he will need to figure out how to end a system broken beyond repair,” they wrote. “Such an act will take political will and moral clarity, both of which Mr. Brown has demonstrated in the past. In the interest of his legacy, the people of California need his leadership one more time before he leaves office.”

Since the United States reinstated the death penalty in 1976, 11 governors have granted clemency to their state’s death row prisoners — effectively turning death sentences into life sentences.

There are more than twice as many people on California’s death row than in any other state. That’s largely because the state hasn’t executed anyone since 2006 when a series of botched lethal injections administered nationwide called into question whether the method of execution runs afoul of the constitution’s an on cruel and unusual punishments. In fact, since the death penalty was reinstated, more of California’s death row inmates have died by suicide than by execution.

Since 1973, 164 men and women have been found innocent and released from death row nationwide, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Five were from California. A National Academy of Sciences study found that at least 4 percent of the nation’s death row inmates are probably innocent.

“This is the horror every governor of a killing state has to live with,” the governor’s wrote.

Photo: California Gov. Jerry Brown speaks during a news conference. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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