Disgusting. Appalling. A punch to the gut.
Law enforcement leaders and family members waiting to see their loved ones’ killers put to death reacted with these sentiments and others Wednesday to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement that he was effectively scrapping California’s death penalty and granting reprieves to more than 700 death row inmates.
“It’s just an open wound that never heals,” said Richard Mobilio, whose 31-year-old son David, a Red Bluff police officer, was gunned down in an ambush in 2002 and who has been waiting for the killer to face execution since the 2005 conviction in the case.
“I’m very disappointed,” said Mobilio, who learned from news reports that his son’s killer, Andrew Mickel, would be given a reprieve along with the other condemned inmates.
“We’re not forgivers and forgetters in this regard,” Mobilio said. “I hate to be so obviously a case of ‘vengeance is mine,’ but I have to be honest with you ... I want to see him pay the penalty.”
Mickel is now 40, and Mobilio said Wednesday that he still holds out hope that the inmate may someday face execution under a different governor.
“If there is a prospect that he pays that penalty, I fully support it,” he said. “Whatever it takes legislatively or through whatever vehicles there might be.”
Marc Klaas, whose 12-year-old daughter Polly was kidnapped from her Petaluma home and murdered in 1993 by Richard Allen Davis, had a similar reaction.
“Obviously, I’m appalled,” Klaas said as he was conducting a series of media interviews about the governor’s decision. “I’m appalled by him doing that, and I’ve got plenty of reasons.”
Newsom, in a news conference at the state Capitol, insisted he has the authority to halt the execution process in the state and said that the apple-green death chamber at San Quentin State Prison was being dismantled as he made the announcement.
But law enforcement leaders pushed back – hard – at the notion that he could simply ignore the fact that the death penalty is on the books as a California law and that voters have reaffirmed support for it three times in recent years.
“It’s disgraceful to the victims that have waited decades for the imposition of sentences that juries have made, decisions in a state were we have for more than 40 years time and time again said this is an appropriate punishment in the rarest of circumstances,” said Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, whose office helped send a convicted cop killer to death row last April.
“Now, with the stroke of a pen, one person overrides the will of the voters and the decisions that juries have made? I am confident that there will be a lot of statewide effort to determine whether what Gov. Newsom’s doing is even legal.”
Schubert, whose office sent Luis Bracamontes to death row last year for the 2014 slayings of Sacramento County Sheriff’s Deputy Danny Oliver and Placer County Sheriff’s Detective Michael Davis Jr., said her office would not be bowed from seeking death penalty prosecutions in the future where deemed appropriate.
“The voters of California have passed a law saying they want the death penalty, that’s the law,” she said. “He cannot preclude a prosecutor or DA’s office from seeking it.
“There’s nothing stopping us from seeking capital punishment in a case where we feel it’s appropriate.”
Schubert was expected to discuss Newsom’s decision Wednesday with Sandy Friend, the mother of 8-year-old Michael Lyons, a Yuba City boy abducted, raped and tortured for hours in 1996 before being stabbed more than 60 times by Robert Rhoades.
Friend said the governor’s move “has silenced all of us, it’s just absolutely horrific.”
“We’re talking about the worst of the worst,” Friend said of death row inmates. “The worst of the worst he is going to give forgiveness to.
“My son was 8 years old against a 43-year-old man who brutalized him for hours and hours, and tortured him just for the sheer pleasure of doing it. I can’t imagine that lethal injection is an inhumane punishment for him.”
Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones said Newsom’s action defies “the repeated will of the voters.”
“He has also re-victimized the families of sexually tortured and murdered children, murdered peace officers, and other victims of horrific crimes, in favor of the most depraved among us who have been judged and sentenced to death by a jury of their peers,” Jones said in an email. “I would challenge him to reach out to the families of Deputy Danny Oliver and Detective Mike Davis, as well as the families of all those victimized by the 737 violent criminals who have earned their right to face death because of their evil acts, to try and justify this action.”
Placer County Sheriff Devon Bell, who was in court last year with Jones as a jury recommended death for Bracamontes, said he was “profoundly disappointed” by Newsom’s move, and wondered aloud how the decision will impact his deputies, including Detective Davis’ brother, Jason, who is also with the department.
“I just find this so saddening,” Bell said. “ I don’t know what I’m going to say to Jason. I think (deputies) would share my profound disappointment. Our entire agency knows this too well.”
Bell said the fact that there was little chance of Bracamontes facing execution any time soon – no inmate has been put to death in California since 2006 – did not affect his satisfaction in knowing that it was at least possible before Newsom’s announcement.
“Realistically, was he going to be executed in my career? No,” the sheriff said. “But there was some closure in knowing that he was on death row and that could eventually happen.
“Now, that’s all been stayed.”