Nearly one year ago, on April 24, 2018, Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert announced the arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo, 72. Authorities across the state were charging that DeAngelo was the East Area Rapist and Golden State Killer, responsible for at least 12 murders, 45 rapes and 120 burglaries.
Relatives of the murder and rape victims cheered the news, but nearly a year after his arrest DeAngelo found some relief. As Sen. Jim Nielsen pointed out in the Sacramento Bee, even if the accused Golden State Killer was found guilty and got the death penalty, he had already caught a break.
On March 13, California Governor Gavin Newsom issued a reprieve for all 737 convicted murderers on death row. Newsom said he believed some of reprieved murderers might be innocent, which gave Californians good cause for bewilderment.
Governor Newsom is not an attorney and not a judge. He did not attend the trials and produced no new exculpatory evidence in any of the cases. All 737 reprieved murderers, the worst of the worst, had been duly convicted by a jury of their peers and 24 already exhausted their appeals. Yet Newsom called off executions for the whole lot, which was particularly hard on families of the victims.
Polly Klaas was only 12 in 1993 when she was raped and murdered by Richard Allen Davis. Marc Klass, Polly’s father, said the reprieve “came out of nowhere” and the families’ meeting with Newsom was only so he could say he could say he told them before the announcement. In similar style, Jerry Brown did not let the concerns of victims prevent him from signing SB 1391, which barred the prosecution of 14- and 15-year-old murderers as adults and guaranteed their release at age 25.
In 2016, California voters rejected Proposition 62, which would have eliminated the death penalty, and approved Proposition 66, which speeded up the process for executions. As Lt. Governor, Gavin Newsom said he would be “accountable to the will of the voters,” and not put “my personal opinions in the way of the public’s right to make a determination of where they want to take us, as relates to the death penalty.” As governor, he did the opposite, but despite his autocratic instincts, Newsom got some curious support from a poll by the Public Policy Institute of California.
PPIC president Mark Baldassare said the survey, “Californians and Their Government,” was already in progress but after Newson’s mass murderer reprieve, PPIC pollsters decided to add a question on capital punishment. According to PPIC, 62 percent of Californians said they do not want the death penalty to be the sentence for first-degree murder.
By contrast, a Survey USA poll, taken after the reprieve, found 60 percent of respondents in California support the death penalty, with 26 opposed and the rest uncertain. That was nearly the reverse of the PPIC poll, and Californians might have noted another oddity.
The PPIC percentage of 62 was also the number of the 2016 proposition that would have eliminated the death penalty, and which voters duly rejected. It was as though Jerry Brown had pledged support for Proposition 13, the 1978 People’s Initiative to Limit Property Taxation, then refused to implement the measure, followed by a PPIC poll showing that a majority of Californians opposed Proposition 13.
Californians might note that the Public Policy Institute of California does accept government funding, listing the federal Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Agriculture as contributors. Whatever the case with the post-reprieve poll, the governor is doubtless popular among convicted murderers.
Besides Richard Allen Davis, murderer of Polly Klaas, Newsom’s reprieve included “Tool Box Killer” Lawrence Bittaker, who raped and killed five teen girls in 1979 after torturing them with pliers and screwdrivers. Also reprieved was Luis Bracamontes, a previously deported Mexican national who in Sacramento in 2014 gunned down police officers Danny Oliver and Michael Davis. At his trial, Bracamontes wished he had killed more police officers and shouted “black lives don’t matter” at African-American family members of the victims, including Danny Oliver’s wife Susan.
Had accused Golden State Killer Joseph DeAngelo been sentenced to death, he too would have gained a reprieve on March 13. In California, murderers can kill as many victims as they want to kill, and Governor Gavin Newsom will always have their back.