California governor to sign executive order stopping state's death penalty for now

California Gov. Gavin Newsom

United States media report he plans to sign an executive order later on Wednesday, describing the death penalty as "inconsistent with our bedrock values".

President Trump on Wednesday blasted California Gov. Gavin Newsom for halting executions for the state's 737 death row inmates.

"I do not believe that a civilized society can claim to be a leader in the world as long as its government continues to sanction the premeditated and discriminatory execution of its people", Newsom plans to say on Wednesday, in remarks seen by Reuters.

"There is a lot of literature and studies out there that show that the death penalty is a deeply broken system for a lot of different reasons", the American Civil Liberties Union staff attorney Shilpi Agarwal said.

Since 1973, a total of 164 prisoners nationally - including five from California - have been freed after they were wrongfully convicted, according to "The Innocence List" maintained by The Death Penalty Information Center. Inmates on death row are more likely to die of old age than by lethal injection in the state.

Mike Semanchik, managing attorney for the California Innocence Project - which works to exonerate inmates on death row - cheered the move.

Newsom's planned order drew criticism from some law enforcement groups, including the Association of Deputy District Attorneys, a prosecutors' association.

"Governor Newsom, who supported the failed initiative to end the death penalty in 2006, is usurping the express will of California voters and substituting his personal preferences via this hasty and ill-considered moratorium on the death penalty", Hanisee said in a statement.

"I've done what I want to do", Brown said shortly before leaving office, defending his decision not to endorse death penalty repeal efforts in 2012 and 2016.

Just last month, Newsom issued an executive order that allowed for new DNA testing of evidence in the high-profile case of death row inmate Kevin Cooper, who was sentenced in 1985 for the murders of four people and has exhausted his appeals.

"Symbolically it is very significant", Robert Dunham, the executive director of the not-for-profit Death Penalty Information Center, told the Guardian.

Newsom's office said he can act unilaterally because he's enacting a moratorium, not changing anyone's sentence.

Newsom has been a longtime opponent of the death penalty. "I was grateful to him", Newsom said. His administration's regulations are stalled by challenges in both state and federal court, though those lawsuits may be halted now that Newsom is officially withdrawing the regulations.

But a separate proposition voted on in 2016 won support for its demand to speed up executions in California.

Newsom's aides said it has not yet been decided what will become of the execution chamber, or whether corrections officials have been told to top preparing for executions, for instance by running drills. Levine's district includes San Quentin State Prison, which houses California's death row and execution chamber. Another 26 committed suicide.

The last time an inmate was executed in California was in 2006 under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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