Home>Articles>Under the Radar: How Gov. Newsom Uses Clemency to Engineer Parole for Recidivist Felons and Murderers

Prison Cell Bars. (Photo: Dan Henson/Shuttertock)

Under the Radar: How Gov. Newsom Uses Clemency to Engineer Parole for Recidivist Felons and Murderers

If it were up to Newsom, the public would learn nothing more about those prisoners and their claimed rehabilitation

By Ron Matthias, August 26, 2023 2:45 am

Gov. Gavin Newsom is big on demanding transparency and accountability from others, such as school officials and social media companies.  But from himself, not so much—and especially not when it comes to using his clemency powers to engineer the future release of recidivist criminals, including some who’ve been convicted of murders so heinous they’re not even eligible for parole.

Governors generally enjoy vast clemency powers, but our state constitution imposes one significant limitation on exercising that power in favor of those who have serious criminal records: Anyone who has been convicted of two or more felonies cannot be pardoned or have their sentence commuted unless the governor first obtains the California Supreme Court’s approval. Since taking office, Newsom has sought clemency approval for 62 recidivist felons—including 13 murderers, 10 of whom were sentenced to life imprisonment without (supposedly) any possibility of parole.  Whatever might be the wisdom of Newsom’s actions, the manner in which he goes about securing clemency for those murderers—the first step toward releasing them on parole—is plainly calculated to dampen the public’s understanding of his efforts.

Newsom’s bid for the court’s approval in every repeat-felon/no-parole case begins by filing an innocuous form letter with the court that says little beyond naming the prisoner’s crimes in generic terms and reciting that “the Governor is contemplating a commutation of sentence” in order to make them “eligible for a parole suitability hearing.” These letters blithely recite that the prisoner in question has “demonstrated a commitment to rehabilitation” – purportedly by holding down a job in prison and attending classes, and perhaps by also earning a diploma or completing some similar task.

If it were up to Newsom, the public would learn nothing more about those prisoners and their claimed rehabilitation, and nothing whatsoever about the suffering they inflicted on their victims and other details of their crimes. That’s because when the court dockets clemency matters, it makes the Governor’s cover letter a public record but keeps everything else – “all of the papers and documents the Governor has considered” – secret. Although the court has acknowledged that the public’s “legitimate interest” in having access to those materials requires that they “be available for public inspection,” Newsom persistently asks the court to treat them as “confidential” and “sealed” from public view. And secret they will remain unless someone who has the wherewithal to vigilantly monitor the court’s docket just to learn that Newsom has requested clemency approval on behalf of particular prisoners can also summon the resources needed to prepare and file in each case a motion to unseal the records before the court acts on the governor’s request. Absent such a motion, the public will not know either Newsom’s full range of reasons for trying to remove the prisoner’s no-parole restriction or the basis for the court’s ultimate conclusion that commuting the prisoner’s sentence would—or would not—amount to an abuse of the governor’s authority.

So far, the court has granted 60 of Newsom’s 62 requests for approval to grant clemency to two-time felons while denying none. (Newsom withdrew one request, and one is still pending before the Court.) The latest beneficiary is Elaine Wong, who, in 1981, was convicted of, among other charges, robbery-related first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder in Southern California. For those crimes Wong is serving a no-parole life sentence. 

Former Gov. Jerry Brown first tried to commute Wong’s sentence in 2018, but the Court, as then constituted, refused to provide the necessary approval, a fact that, along with virtually every other important detail, Newsom chose not to mention in his own cover letter. The Court approved Newsom’s clemency request for Wong on August 16.

Newsom’s unrelenting efforts to keep the public in the dark have forced crime victims, the media, and prosecutors to file motions to unseal just to keep themselves and the public minimally informed about what he and (indirectly) the court are up to. But it’s impossible to for the public to keep up: In only 9 of Newsom’s 62 clemency cases was someone able to complete the steps necessary to open the records for public inspection; in the other 54, the records remain forever shrouded in secrecy. Any governor who genuinely cared about transparency and open government would submit all disclosable information to the court in publicly-accessible form at the outset of the clemency-approval process. Newsom’s hide-the-ball tactics prove that he does not.

This article was updated to reflect that Wong is serving a no-parole life sentence. 

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6 thoughts on “Under the Radar: How Gov. Newsom Uses Clemency to Engineer Parole for Recidivist Felons and Murderers

  1. Newsom wants to keep the public in the dark on the abuse of clemency and every other issue. Newsom needs to be hauled before a tribunal and be held accountable for his many crimes against humanity that includes locking healthy Californians and small businesses down (while excluding himself and his cronies) during the Covid scamdemic and for mandating experimental mRNA shots that have injured and killed thousands of innocent Californians. He and his soul need to be held accountable!

  2. I don’t know why I was inspired to read the whole appellate brief from1986 on the Wong case – it’s a gruesome killing. HOWEVER, Wong was convicted of felony murder, and the facts of the case do not establish beyond a reasonable doubt her intention in visiting Hoo in Hawthorne was to commit a robbery – it is probable she went there to plead with him and her decision to take a gun along is not proof of premediation, as Hoo had a baretta in his reach at the time of the killing and the claim he asked sexual favors to pay off her debts is credible. The facts establish a second degree murder, for which the max sentence is life WITH the possibility of parole.

  3. For your information newson, peeeeeelowski , bolshevik biden, xaivar, kerry and others etc who profess to be Catholics, by their own actions have already been excommunicated from The Roman Church by violating Cannon Law and thus automatically have been subjected to latae sententiae excommunication. The Celestial Six Actual will take into account their actions. I am NOT bucking for HIS job. Pass this on because it is true. WOKE priests and bishops cannot get around of this fact.

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