NEWYou can now listen to Fox News articles!
California’s death row houses 687 inmates, twice as many as Florida and three times the number in Texas. Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon is committed to reducing that number, seeking to resentence at least 15 death row inmates to life without parole.
“The reality is a death penalty doesn’t make us safer. It is racist. It’s morally untenable, its irreversible and expensive,” Gascon claims. “And it’s not just off the table going forward. I am committed to resentencing those currently on death row to life in prison.”
That promise is now playing out in L.A. courts and many are not happy.
“For the families, this is really devastating,” former Deputy DA Kathy Cady tells Fox News Digital. “What’s happening in Los Angeles is that the district attorney’s office, based on policy only, is going through systematically and trying to undo every death sentence that has ever occurred in this county.”
There are 215 inmates on California’s death row sentenced to death from L.A. County. Fox News has obtained a list of 65 of those cases currently undergoing Gascon’s sentencing review. So far, he helped vacate the death sentences of 7 of those inmates and reduced their penalties to life in prison without parole, commonly known as LWOP. The intent, colleagues say, is to make these inmates eligible for clemency, commutation, parole or early release.
“His office is telling families, don’t worry, nothing really changes. If that is the case, why do it?” asks Cady. “The sentence that the judge imposed essentially is going to be meaningless if these people are then entitled to get a parole hearing based on the elder or youthful parole law.
California also makes eligible for release inmates serving life sentences if they committed a capital crime while under age 18, or if they reached age 50 or above. Those inmates are eligible for release after serving 20 to 25 years of their sentence. Inmates serving a sentence of death or life without parole are not supposed to be eligible for the elderly parole program, but critics claim Gascon is trying an end around.
“That’s the endgame,” says Cady, “trying to make those people eligible for parole. Does the governor have the power to commute a sentence? Of course he does.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom opposes the death penalty and imposed a moratorium on executions in 2019. The state constitution gives him the power to grant clemency in criminal cases in the form of reprieves, commutations, and pardons.
Gascon’s policy is no surprise, since he issued this directive on his first day in office:
“In any case charged from this day forward, the District Attorney’s Office will not seek the death penalty. The District Attorney’s Office will not defend existing death sentences and will engage in a thorough review of every existing death penalty judgment from Los Angeles County with the goal of removing the sentence of death.”
Under Gascon’s directive, inmates no longer on death row include:
– Carmen Ward, a gang member who killed two teenagers in 1998 for crossing into his neighborhood.
– Katherine Thompson, who hired a man to kill her husband to collect a $400,000 life insurance policy.
– Donald Smith, convicted by a jury in 1995 of killing two men to take their business.
– Douglas Kelly, a personal trainer who sexually assaulted then stabbed his client 30 times with a pair of scissors.
– Carlos Hawthorne, convicted in 1996 of hogtying a woman and her 16-year-old daughter before shooting both in the head.
– Stanley Davis, convicted in 1985 of kidnapping, robbing and killing two college students.
– Anderson Hawthorne, convicted in 1982 of killing two rival gang members.
Gascon has also filed petitions to resentence:
– Maurice Harris, who in 1982 shot a teenager three times and left him in the desert to die after stealing $350.
– Raymond Butler, convicted of killing two visiting Japanese college students in 1994 during a carjacking.
– Scott Collins, who kidnapped, robbed and killed his boss, Fred Rose, during lunch hour in 1992.
A former prosecutor for 30 years, Cady now represents the Rose family and opposes any change in Collins’ sentence.
“Gascon is now essentially trying to undo every possible death sentence in Los Angeles County. And this is going back several decades – cases that happened 30 years ago, 40 years ago,” said Cady. “Surviving murder victims’ families relied on this sentence knowing that justice was going to be done. And for the public, it is equally devastating because these people could then be released into our communities.”
Fox News asked Gascon’s office last week to explain its death penalty reduction strategy, but has yet to receive a reply. Gascon has said however, “The death penalty serves no public safety purpose,” noting that in the last 8 years Los Angeles County had become, in his words, “the nation’s death capital,” putting more people on death row than Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee and Virginia combined.