Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision to give a moratorium to the 737 inmates on California’s death row was met with opposition from Mariposa County law enforcement.
The Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office and District Attorney’s Office released a joint statement saying the move from the governor was in direct opposition of the citizens of the state. They noted among the death row residents is Cary Stayner, a handyman who worked in a motel near Yosemite National Park and killed two women and two teenage girls in 1999.
Newsom also withdrew the lethal injection regulations that death penalty opponents already challenged in courts and moved to close the execution chamber at San Quentin State Prison.
“It’s a very emotional place that I stand,” Newsom told reporters after signing the order. “This is about who I am as a human being, this is about what I can or cannot do; to me this was the right thing to do.”
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Mariposa County officials said Newsom’s move was in direct opposition of voters, noting efforts to repeal the death penalty failed in 2012 and 2016.
“By executive fiat, Governor Newsom is substituting his own individual agenda on a ballot measure that he supported and which failed in 2016,” the statement said. “This moratorium rejects the clear and certain determination of Californians and their properly enacted laws.”
In 2016, voters in California also passed a measure to speed up the death penalty. California hasn’t executed anyone since 2006 when Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor.
Sentenced to death in 2002, Stayner was convicted of four murders between February and July 1999, including victims Carole Sund, 42, her daughter Juli, 15, and 16-year-old Silvina Pelosso, a family friend from Argentina. They were touring Yosemite and stayed in the lodge where Stayner worked.
The car that had been rented by Carole Sund was recovered a month later. It had been burned near Sierra Village east of Sonora. Sund’s charred remains, as well as those of Pelosso, were inside.
Stayner taunted authorities with a note and a map that they followed to find the body of Juli Sund, her throat slashed, near Don Pedro Reservoir.
The headless body of another victim, Joie Armstrong, 26, who had worked with children in Yosemite, was found in July 1999. Investigators circled back to Stayner, who had been dismissed as a suspect in the sight-seers’ slayings. They arrested him at a nudist colony near Sacramento, and he confessed to all four murders.
Stayner was sentenced to death and remains on death row at San Quentin Penitentiary in California.
“The Cary Stayner case is considered the most callous crimes that have occurred in Mariposa County,” Mariposa County Sheriff Doug Binnewies said in the statement. “The horrific murders of Carol, Julie, Silvina and Joie have deeply impacted us all. The people have spoken and Stayner has earned his consequence, which I’ll add is far kinder than what he offered his victims.”
Newsom said Wednesday the death penalty isn’t a deterrent, wastes taxpayer dollars and is flawed because it is “irreversible and irreparable in the event of human error.” It’s also costly — California has spent $5 billion since 1978 on its death row, he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.