California: With state executions on hold, death penalty foes rethink ballot strategy

California advocates of abolishing the death penalty got a jolt of momentum in March, when Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that he would not allow any executions to take place while he was in office.
But after trying twice this decade to persuade voters to end capital punishment, they have no plans to go to the ballot again in 2020. Rather than seeking to build on Newsom’s temporary reprieve for Death Row inmates, activists are taking their own pause.
Grappling with the legacy of their two failed initiatives, advocates are reassessing their strategy and retooling their message. Natasha Minsker, a political consultant who has long been involved with abolition efforts, said the governor’s moratorium has given advocates the opportunity to do long-term planning.
“There’s this excitement and energy in our movement that we haven’t had in a long time,” Minsker said.
Newsom’s executive order caught many Californians by surprise. Although he supported the unsuccessful ballot measures to abolish t…

Backstory and reaction to denial of capital clemency in Ohio

As detailed in this post, yesterday Ohio Governor Ted Strickland denied clemency for death row defendant Jason Getsy despite the state parole board's recommendation for mercy based in part on the fact that Getsy was the only one of multiple persons involved in the crime sentenced to death. This local article about the decision details some input Strickland received and reactions:

"Justice won today," said Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins, who worked feverishly to persuade the governor to ignore the board's recommendation. "He made the decision to kill. This case is as bad as it gets," Watkins said. "This was just evil."

The prosecutor helped coordinate a petition drive that produced at least 2,000 signatures in favor of death, including 150 to 200 from the local General Motors plant. There was even a signature and a petition circulated by a juror who heard the Getsy case in the courtroom of Judge W. Wyatt McKay and found the then-19-year-old defendant guilty as charged and then recommended the death penalty to the judge, who later imposed it.

There were countless e-mails sent to the governor through his deputy counsel Jose Torres and letters from prosecutors across the state backing Watkins and his warning that freeing Getsy from the death penalty would set a dangerous precedent in many court proceedings. A police chiefs association also backed Watkins.

Finally, Watkins also got an endorsement from Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, who in a last minute letter to Strickland said that Getsy "is not the kind of individual who is deserving of special mercy in the clemency process.

"Getsy's request for clemency should be evaluated based on his own culpability, and not based on what evidence was available to be presented or how it may have been interpreted in a co-defendant's case. We feel strongly that this is not a justifiable basis for commuting the death sentence on the facts of this case and we believe the precedent set by the Parole Board here would be detrimental to Ohio's system of justice," Cordray wrote.

The board earlier last month voted 5-2 for a rare reprieve after being convinced by Getsy's attorneys that their client didn't deserve death since the older co-defendant, John Santine, who planned the murder and hired Getsy and others didn't get the death penalty.

Strickland said in his statement Friday morning: "Substantial attention has been focused on the different sentences imposed upon Mr. Getsy and his co-defendant, Mr. Santine. Mr. Getsy and Mr. Santine had different roles in the murder. The fact that Mr. Santine was not sentenced to death is not, by itself, justification to commute Mr. Getsy's sentence. Mr. Getsy's sentence was based on his conduct and based upon our review, which included consideration of the differing Santine and Getsy sentences. I do not believe executive clemency is warranted. Although my decision is inconsistent with the recommendation of the majority of the members of the Parole Board, I appreciate and respect their thoughtful consideration and review of this difficult case."

Attorney John Shultz, 1 of a 3-member defense team that represented Getsy at trial, questioned the governor's decision: "I'm not shocked, but I am disappointed. When he (Strickland) ran for office he said he was opposed to the death penalty. He succumbed to the pressure of prosecutors and police chiefs. The governor is wishy-washy. I'm not saying he (Getsy) doesn't deserve to be punished. But, we have Charles Manson still out there and Getsy gets executed? That's what's on my mind today," Shultz said.

Source: Sentencing Law and Policy, August 16, 2009

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