Wed. 8:44 a.m.: Trump ‘not thrilled’ with Calif. plan to halt executions

In this Aug. 16, 2016, file photo a condemned inmate is led out of his east block cell on death row at San Quentin State Prison, in San Quentin, Calif. Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to sign a moratorium today on the death penalty in California. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump says he’s “not thrilled” with California’s plan to halt death penalty executions.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom planned to sign an executive order today giving a reprieve to the 737 inmates on his state’s death row.

Trump tweeted this morning that voters don’t support Newsom’s decision on behalf of the “737 stone cold killers.” Trump says “Friends and families of the always forgotten VICTIMS are not thrilled, and neither am I!” Trump has cultivated an image of himself as a tough-on-crime president and has said drug dealers should face the ultimate penalty.

In remarks prepared for delivery today, Newsom calls the death penalty a “failure” that has discriminated against the mentally ill, minorities and the poor. Newsom also says innocent people have been wrongly convicted and sometimes executed.

Newsom also is withdrawing the lethal injection regulations that death penalty opponents already have tied up in courts and shuttering the new execution chamber at San Quentin State Prison that has never been used.

“The intentional killing of another person is wrong and as governor, I will not oversee the execution of any individual,” he says in prepared remarks.

California hasn’t executed anyone since 2006, when Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor. And though voters in 2016 narrowly approved a ballot measure to speed up the punishment, no condemned inmate faced imminent execution.

Since California’s last execution, its death row population has grown to house one of every four condemned inmates in the United States. They include Scott Peterson, whose trial for killing his wife Laci riveted the country, and Richard Davis, who kidnapped 12-year-old Polly Klaas during a slumber party and strangled her.

Newsom “is usurping the express will of California voters and substituting his personal preferences via this hasty and ill-considered moratorium on the death penalty,” said Michele Hanisee, president of the Association of Deputy (Los Angeles County) District Attorneys.

But Alison Parker, U.S. managing director at Human Rights Watch, praised Newsom’s “great courage and leadership in ending the cruel, costly, and unfair practice of executing prisoners,” calling for other states to follow California’s lead. The American Civil Liberties Union called it “a watershed moment in the fight for racial equity and equal justice for all.” Justin Brooks, director of the California Innocence Project, lauded Newsom for ending the risk of executing someone who is innocent.

Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which has been fighting in court to force the state to resume executions, said blocking Newsom’s move may be difficult.

“Reprieves, the governor does have the power to do that. That doesn’t make it the right thing to do,” Scheidegger said. “At this time I don’t see a legal challenge to the reprieve.” However, he said prohibiting corrections officials from preparing to carry out executions “is patently illegal” under the 2016 ballot measure.

Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager, president of the California District Attorneys Association, also criticized Newsom for circumventing the will of a majority of voters.

But he had support from Democratic lawmakers including Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego, who praised Newsom for doing “what’s right, even when it’s tough,” in Gonzalez’s words.

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