DA wants Santa Clara County convicts off death row – TechVerdant

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SAN JOSE — Building on a 2020 pledge to stop pursuing the death penalty, Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen is now seeking to remove all South Bay capital prisoners from California’s death row.

Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen leaves the Hall of Justice in San Jose, Calif., Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2023, after an arraignment hearing was continued against Derek Vaughn Rayo, 27, and Kelly Gene Richardson, 28, who are facing murder charges in the fentanyl death of their 18-month-old daughter, Winter Rayo in August. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen speaks in front of the Hall of Justice in San Jose, Calif., Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2023. This week, Rosen announced his intent to get all current death row inmates from Santa Clara County resentenced to life in prison without parole. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) 

This week, Rosen’s office is petitioning the county Superior Court to resentence 14 men — all being held in San Quentin State Prison — to terms of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The reasoning Rosen gave in court filings is grounded on the death penalty being an irreversible punishment that requires an equity of due process that can’t be guaranteed. There is also, he added, a “diminishing likelihood” of executions resuming in part because of a moratorium by Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has also initiated the shutdown of the state’s death row.

“The state is dismantling death row, and it is time we recognize this reality and dismantle these sentences as well,” Rosen states in one of the resentencing motions.

Also in the motions — one filed for every condemned man convicted in Santa Clara County who agrees to being taken off death row — Rosen acknowledges “the enduring and indescribable pain” suffered by crime victims’ families and friends that “cannot be discounted or ignored.”

In an interview, Rosen said since his office ceased pursuing the death penalty four years ago, they cannot rationally continue to litigate and defend death sentences prior to that point.

“It flows logically because if you’re saying that for the same crime committed today you would not seek the death penalty, but someone else has been sitting on death row for 20 years, that’s not fair,” he said. “We want to try to treat people who have committed similar crimes similarly.”

Rosen also reiterated the change of heart he says drove him to end death penalty prosecutions by his office.

“I used to think that in a perfect world, in a perfectly fair society, there could be some crimes so horrible and awful that the appropriate response would be death,” he said. “But I’ve come to know what we all know, we don’t live in a perfect world where everything is fair, I just began to feel like we don’t have the moral authority as a society to execute someone.”

He added that converting the death sentences will inevitably free up his office’s resources to focus on local crimes, and offer closure to victims’ families instead of the decades-long limbo they currently experience awaiting some finality in their loved ones’ cases.

“That’s not fair to anybody. We’re trying to bring finality to these cases,” Rosen said. “At this point, it’s unlikely anyone will be executed.”

County Public Defender Molly O’Neal lauded the resentencing motions, calling them another step toward an eventuality in which California dispenses with capital punishment altogether.

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