Kern officials oppose governor on death penalty

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Kern officials oppose governor on death penaltyKern County elected officials are among those who oppose Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive order last week to suspend the death penalty — granting reprieve to the 737 convicted murderers on death row in California.

Newsom cited the historic contentiousness of the issue, a purported bias against minorities and the poor, the expense to taxpayers and the irreversibility of the punishment that has a statistical probability of wrongfully executing the wrongfully convicted.

However, Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer was among those who expressed opposition to a policy that conflicts with the will of the people while continuing state initiatives that prioritize consideration to criminals over the protection of victims.

“By his actions, the governor casts aside the verdicts of every jury from all over the state that found that the death penalty was appropriate and required by law, as well as every ruling by every judge affirming those convictions,” said Zimmer.

The order is also “an insult to families and friends of victims who were viciously murdered at the hands of these inmates.”

Zimmer said that less than 5 percent of inmates convicted of murder in Kern County were sentenced to death — which she said demonstrates that the penalty is reserved for only the most egregious perpetrators.

In 2016 a majority of California voters overturned an initiative to replace capital punishment with life without parole. Zimmer noted that voters passed a second initiative on that same ballot to institute the reforms to ensure the penalty continued in a more effective application.

“Honoring the will of voters is the lynchpin of our democracy,” said State Assemblyman Vince Fong. “The voters of California made their position clear twice regarding the death penalty. No individual elected official should unilaterally defy the public’s will and the democratic process.

“The ongoing pain and emotions experienced by the family and friends of some of the most horrific crimes we have seen in our state should matter and must be heard.”

State Sen. Republican Leader Shannon Grove acknowledged that although the moratorium was within the governor’s power, “we cannot ignore the pleas from crime victims and their families, and the more than 7.2 million voters who rejected overturning the death penalty.

“With one stroke of the governor’s pen, he has defied the will of the people. The governor is sending a message to the victims’ families and the women and men in law enforcement that there will not be judgment for the most heinous crimes.

“Senate Republicans remain committed to ensuring that California is safe.”

The latest action follows California policies that conservatives say have eroded public safety — and triggered a rise in serious crimes.

In 2009, the state legislation adopted Assembly Bill 109 that closed state prisons, squeezing more than 10,000 convicts back onto the streets.

Subsequent voter initiatives, including Propositions 47 and 57, decriminalized certain classes of felonies and reduced sentencing guidelines. Last year, the legislature eliminated the cash bail bond system.

Although no reportable actions had been taken by press time, rumors about citizen petitions and lawsuits challenging the executive order have been circulating throughout the county and state.

Story First Published: 2019-03-22