Murder victims’ families criticize California’s moratorium on executions
Family members of murder victims whose killers were sentenced to death in California often took solace knowing that one day those prisoners could be executed.
But Gov. Gavin Newsom’s March 13 executive order placing a moratorium on carrying out the death penalty has taken away that consolation.
Thursday, May 9, some of those survivors spoke out against the moratorium during a news conference in Riverside attended by district attorneys Mike Hestrin of Riverside County and Todd Spitzer of Orange County, and San Bernardino County Assistant District Attorney Julie Peterson.
“I can’t begin to tell you what the governor has done by doing this,” said Marilyn Van Kleef, whose 18-year-old son, Jason, was shot in the back of the head in Rialto in 2001 because he refused to join a gang.
The morning before Newsom announced his moratorium,” Van Kleef received a call from state prison officials. She hoped to hear that inmate Albert Flores was dead. Instead, she was told she had to wait longer for the execution.
“So punch me in the stomach again. Make me relive everything,” Van Kleef said.
Joe Bonaminio held up a photo of son Ryan, a 27-year-old Riverside police officer and Army veteran who was murdered in 2010 by career criminal Earl Ellis Green.
“He was my son, and he was held very near and dear to us for 27 years, 11 months, 7 days, 21 hours and 52 minutes,” Bonaminio said, his voice shaking. “The death penalty, to the bleeding hearts of this state, is cruel and unusual punishment. Please do not tell me and my family whose son was brutally murdered that anything less than the death penalty is punishment enough.”
There are 737 inmates on death row, and Spitzer said of those, 23 inmates’ appeals have been exhausted. Hestrin said he believes that in the current political climate, in which voters in 2016 passed Prop. 66 to streamline the appeals process, that the first execution in the state since 2006 was destined to happen “very soon” until the moratorium.
Hestrin and Spitzer plan to take what they call the “Victims of Murder Justice Tour” to San Diego and Los Angeles counties, the Bay Area and the Central Coast.
Hestrin called on Newsom to use the clemency process on a case-by-case basis to reject the death penalty. But Spitzer said the governor was “chicken,” because doing so would mean having to meet the victims’ families and hear their stories.
Newsom spokesman Brian Ferguson said Thursday that the governor spoke with families before making his decision. Some supported the death penalty while others believed that the state should not kill someone who has killed.
“As he said when he announced the decision, the governor decided he couldn’t continue a system that discriminates against defendants who are mentally ill, of color, or can’t afford expensive legal representation. And he couldn’t continue a system where innocent people have been sentenced to death,” Ferguson said in a written statement.
Another criticism of the death penalty is that the three-drug protocol causes a painful death to inmates.
The survivors of those inmates’ actions say they live with a different kind of pain: grief.
On Oct. 28, 1980, Susan Jordan, 15, was dragged into the orange groves in Riverside as she walked to Arlington High. Albert Brown raped her and then strangled her with her own shoelaces. Brown then called Jordan’s home and boasted that the family would never see her alive again. His appeals have been exhausted.
“The wounds never heal,” said a brother, James Jordan. “We never get closure because Albert Brown continues to live and because justice has yet to be served. It’s not only Susan’s life that was taken that day, it was a lifetime of memories that were never made.”
Ryan Bonamino’s mother, Gerri, who has raged mostly in private since her son’s death, wasn’t scheduled to speak Thursday but asked Hestrin for the opportunity as her anger grew during the news conference. She told how Newsom had given her a plaque as lieutenant governor in 2011 when her son’s name was placed on a peace officer memorial.
Gerri Bonaminio said that after the moratorium was announced, she sent Newsom a photo of that presentation along with a photo of her son.
“And I told him how he let California down,” Bonaminio said, adding: “Grief changes shapes, but it never ebbs.”