Should Jerry Brown clear out California’s death row? These former governors think so

In January, two-term California Gov. Jerry Brown leaves office. But before he does, half a dozen former governors are calling on him to grant clemency to California’s 740 women and men on death row.

Former Democratic Govs. Richard Celeste, of Ohio; John Kitzhaber, of Oregon; Martin O’Malley, of Maryland; Bill Richardson, of New Mexico; Toney Anaya, of New Mexico and Pat Quinn, of Illinois; jointly penned an op-ed in The New York Times on Thursday.

“Mr. Brown has the power to commute the sentences of 740 men and women, to save 740 lives. Or, he can declare a moratorium on the death penalty and give Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom the time he will need to figure out how to end a system broken beyond repair,” they wrote. “Such an act will take political will and moral clarity, both of which Mr. Brown has demonstrated in the past. In the interest of his legacy, the people of California need his leadership one more time before he leaves office.”

The Sacramento Bee reached out to Brown’s office in late November to ask whether Brown was considering clemency. “I do not expect we’ll be commenting,” spokesman Evan Westrup responded.

Since 1973, 164 death row inmates have been exonerated and released from custody, including five from California, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The Death Penalty Information Center found that at least 15 people who were executed were likely not guilty of the crimes for which they were convicted.

More than 1,470 people have been executed since the death penalty was reinstated nationwide in 1976.

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Andrew Sheeler covers California’s unique political climate for McClatchy. He has covered crime and politics from Interior Alaska to North Dakota’s oil patch to the rugged coast of southern Oregon. He attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks.