Differing reactions among Bay Area prosecutors after Newsom’s execution ban

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SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — “To line people up to be executed, premeditated, state sponsored executions, that is a choice we can make. Or, we can make a more enlightened choice,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday.

The death chamber at San Quentin has been shut down after Newsom today announced a halt to the death penalty in California.

Crews worked to disassemble the chamber today as a result of the order.

That means the more than 700 inmates on the nation’s largest death row will have their death sentences put on hold.

The governor’s executive order declaring a moratorium on executions in California and the immediate closure of the chamber at San Quentin is being hailed as a good move by some prosecutors.

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon believes the death penalty is not a deterrent, but a hardship for the family of victims, and is unfairly applied.

“There is plenty of evidence it is not a deterrent. There is plenty of evidence for the families of the victims that the process of going through a death penalty trial — it keeps open the wound,” Gascon said.

He says the penalty is a problem both economically and socially.

“It is a problem economically, socially [and] it doesn’t deter serious violent crimes,” Gascon said. “When you consider we have not executed anyone in many years and our homicide rates continue to go down. There is absolutely no reason for a civilized society to have a death penalty.”

San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe has differing views and believes the death penalty can be a deterrent for some.

“This decision by the governor flies in the face of what voters have done,” said Wagstaffe. “I guess he’s decided his personal views outweigh the view of the public.”

Wagstaffe believes certain people deserve the maximum punishment because of the seriousness of the crime.

“When I argued to juries — arguing death penalty cases — [I would say] there are certain cases with the most evil people who did the most evil of acts to the most vulnerable of people — that they deserve to have the maximum punishment. They forfeit their right to live among free society or even incarcerated society.”

He believes the system is fair and has improved over the years, and says California voters have supported keeping the death penalty three times — and for good reason.

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