Calling it an insult to the families of murder victims, Fresno area law enforcement leaders on Wednesday roundly criticized Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision to suspend the death penalty.
Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp reacted strongly to the Governor’s executive action.
“This unilateral action ignores the repeated and clearly expressed will of the voters of the state of California, ignores the laws that were/are in place at the time of the convictions, and turns a deaf ear to the families of the murdered victims,” Smittcamp said in a statement.
Tim Ward, district attorney for Tulare County, called the decision “deeply offensive to the memories of murdered loved ones and the justice they rightfully deserve. “
“What message does this order send to families who lost a cherished family member, friend or neighbor to our state’s worst killers? What of their grief, their days, months, and years in the courtroom waiting for justice, only to now have that ultimate justice ripped from them just as a killer ripped their lives apart?,” Ward said in a statement.
Newsom’s moratorium puts on hold the executions of 737 inmates on death row, including one of the more notorious mass murderers in Fresno County history, Marcus Wesson. Newsom’s announcement comes on the heels of the 15-year remembrance of the brutal murders.
Wesson was sentenced to death in Fresno Superior Court in 2005 after being convicted of orchestrating the 2004 killings of nine of his children.
As part of his reason for suspending the death penalty, Newsom said the punishment has been a failure.
“It has discriminated against defendants who are mentally ill, black and brown, or can’t afford expensive legal representation. It has provided no public safety benefit or value as a deterrent. It has wasted billions of taxpayer dollars,” Newsom said in a news release.
But Smittcamp pointed out that Wesson, who is Black, did not get the death penalty because of his race. “
“The judge and jury rendered that verdict because of the horrific murders of his nine children and the rapes and molestations of his underage daughters,” she said. “Wesson earned the death penalty just as Clarence Ray Allen did, who was the evil mastermind behind the murders at Fran’s Market and the last person lawfully executed in the state of California.”
Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer was also deeply disappointed with the governor’s action. He too brought up Wesson, calling him a good example of why the death penalty is necessary.
“If Marcus Wesson does not deserve to die for what he did, to have his nine children killed, than no one does, Dyer said.
Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims was disappointed by the governor’s decision, saying that he did not reach out to law enforcement before calling for a moratorium.
“It was disingenuous for him to say ‘I did this with the victims in mind.’ Because if that were the case, he wouldn’t have taken this action,” said said.
She also faulted the effectiveness of the death penalty system, calling for a more a more streamlined process.
“I do agree that our death penalty system is broken,” she said. “It takes way too long. People are dying before they can carry out an execution.“
Of the 737 death row inmates, more than 60 are from the central San Joaquin Valley. The list includes people convicted of killing a police officer, an 11-year-old and a math teacher.
Merced Police Officer Stephon Gray’s killer is on the list. Cuitlahuac Tahua “Tao” Rivera is a gang member who gunned down Gray during a traffic stop on April 15, 2004. Rivera has been on death row at San Quentin State Prison for over a decade.
Gray’s widow Michelle Gray had to prepare her three children on Tuesday night, in case they heard about it at school.
“Unfortunately there was probably close to 740 families that had that same discussion last night,” Gray said. “I felt I had to tell my kids of the situation.”
Gray didn’t want her 17-year old daughter Cameron to be caught off guard.
“As long as (Rivera) stays in prison, and I’m confident he will, that’s what we can focus on,” she said. “We can push on and be successful as a family.”
Merced Sun-Star reporter Thaddeus Miller contributed to this report.
© 2019 The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.)
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