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Victims’ parents urge Newsom to stop death penalty reprieve

April 11, 2019
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Sandy Friend, the mother of 8-year-old murder victim Michael Lyons, left, and Raquel Herr, the mother of murder victim Sam Herr, comfort each other after a news conference to call on Gov. Gavin Newsom to reverse his moratorium on executions, during a news conference Thursday, April 11, 2019, in Sacramento, Calif. Family members of Californians murdered by people now on death row, joined district attorney's as they launched a statewide tour to urge Newsom to reverse his decision. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Parents of Californians murdered by people now on death row shared gruesome details of their loved ones’ killings Thursday as they launched a statewide tour to urge Gov. Gavin Newsom to reverse his moratorium on executions.

“He was like a thief in the night that stole justice from us,” said Phyllis Loya, whose son Larry Lasater Jr. was killed on duty as a police officer.

Newsom last month issued a reprieve to the more than 700 people sitting on California’s death row, meaning none will be executed as long as he is in office. He also ordered the state to withdraw its lethal injection regulations and dismantled the “death chamber” at San Quentin State Prison.

California’s death row is the nation’s largest, but the state has not executed anyone since 2006. Voters in 2016 approved a ballot measure to speed up executions, and district attorneys and the families of victims’ accused Newsom of defying the voters’ will.

Todd Spitzer, Orange County’s district attorney, said the “Victims of Murder Justice” tour will travel to all 80 Assembly and 40 Senate districts. He did not announce new legal actions aimed at stopping Newsom’s moratorium. But Spitzer requested that Newsom review each case individually to make clemency decisions rather than issuing a blanket reprieve. He also said the tour is designed to pressure lawmakers; a proposal has been introduced to again put a measure to permanently stop the death penalty on the 2020 ballot.

Families criticized Newsom for saying he couldn’t sleep at night knowing an innocent person might be killed, saying they could not sleep because they had seen their children’s bodies defiled and, in one case, sewn back together.

“A real leader would say let me listen to this case by case,” said Steve Herr, whose son Sam Herr was murdered in 2010 by Daniel Wozniak, who shot Herr in the head, made it look as if he raped a female victim and dismembered him. Herr said Newsom will never know what it was like to see the murder scene and, later, his son’s body sewn back together so it could be buried in one piece.

Jeri Oliver, whose son Danny Oliver was killed while on duty as a Sacramento sheriff’s deputy, had perhaps the harshest words for Newsom. Luis Bracamontes was convicted last year for Oliver’s murder and said during the trial he wished he had killed more cops. Oliver said Newsom owed her a one-on-one meeting to discuss the case.

“You turned the knife again in my heart,” Oliver said. “I dare you to meet with me and I can give you some facts that you don’t want to hear. I challenge you Gov. Newsom — come meet with me.”

Newsom has said the death penalty is applied unevenly and often discriminates based on race and class and creates the possibility of an innocent person being executed.

Spokesman Jesse Melgar said Newsom sends his “heartfelt condolences to survivor families.”

“The Governor sought out and heard from many survivor families as he was making his decision on the death penalty,” Melgar said in an email. “Some supported the death penalty while others strongly believed the state shouldn’t take another life in the name of their loved one.”

National Crime Victims’ Rights Week began Monday, and several attendees said Newsom should have spent it meeting with crime victims in California rather than traveling to El Salvador. Newsom spent three days in the Central American country to learn about the poverty and violence driving migrants to come to the United States.

Newsom’s office did not offer comment on that criticism.

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