What to Know About California's Death Penalty - NBC Southern California

What to Know About California's Death Penalty

Who has been on death row the longest? Who is the newest death row inmate? Other answers to questions about the death penalty in California

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Gov. Newsom Declares Moratorium on Death Penalty in California

    The 737 inmates on the nation's largest death row got a reprieve from California Gov. Gavin Newsom when he signed an executive order placing a moratorium on executions. Conan Nolan reports for the NBC4 News at 4 on Wednesday, March 13, 2019. (Published Wednesday, March 13, 2019)

    California's Democratic governor announced Wednesday he was temporarily shutting down the nation's most populous death row. Since the state reinstated the death penalty in 1978, it has executed 13 inmates, the last one in 2006.

    Here are things to know about California's death row.

    WHAT HAPPENS TO CONDEMNED INMATES' SENTENCES AND APPEALS?

    They will remain on death row, sentenced to death and their appeals will continue. County prosecutors can still demand the death penalty, and trial court judges can still sentence convicted murderers to death after a jury recommends execution. But no executions will be scheduled while the governor's moratorium remains in effect.

    "Everything keeps going as before," said Santa Clara University law professor Ellen Kreitzberg. "Just no executions."

    WHERE ARE CONDEMNED INMATES KEPT?

    They are confined to individual cells in one of three special sections of San Quentin State Prison. There are 520 cells stacked five stories high in the prison's east block, where the vast majority of condemned inmates live. There are three dozen cells on the sixth floor for condemned inmates deemed to cause the least trouble. The so-called "adjustment center," the solitary confinement wing of death row for disruptive prisoners, has 81 cells.

    The 22 women sentenced to death are housed in the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla. No woman has been executed since California reintroduced capital punishment in 1978.

    WHAT HAPPENS TO THE SO-CALLED DEATH CHAMBER?

    Newsom ordered the dismantling of the never-used death chamber at San Quentin. Prison officials built it in 2008 in an attempt to comply with a federal court order to improve death chamber conditions and training of execution staff. The sterile chamber was built on the site of the prison's old gas chamber. Death by gas was stopped in 1996 after a court ruling questioned its constitutionality.

    WHO WAS THE LAST PERSON EXECUTED IN CALIFORNIA?

    Clarence Ray Allen, 76, was executed by lethal injection at 12:20 a.m. Jan. 17, 2006, after spending 22 years on death row. He was the oldest inmate executed since the reinstatement of capital punishment. Allen was convicted of ordering the 1980 murders of three people he believed had helped prosecutors convict him of a 1974 murder. He was serving a life term for the 1974 murder of a burglary accomplice when he ordered the three additional murders. Billie Ray Hamilton, who Allen met in prison, was convicted of the triple slaying and sentenced to death, but died at age 57 of natural causes in 2007.

    WHICH INMATE WAS TO BE EXECUTED NEXT?

    Authorities called off the lethal injection of Michael Morales two hours before his scheduled Feb. 21, 2006, execution for the murder and rape of a 17-year-old girl. Prison officials said they could not comply with a recent court order requiring licensed medical professionals to administer lethal injections. California then indefinitely suspended capital punishment to rework its lethal injection policies and procedures. Since then, 25 condemned inmates including Morales have exhausted all of their appeals and were considered "next in line."

    WHO HAS LIVED ON DEATH ROW THE LONGEST?

    One of the two "Tool Box Killers," Lawrence Bittaker, 78, entered death row on March 30, 1981, after he was convicted of raping, torturing and killing five teenage girls in 1979. His accomplice, Roy Lee Norris, accepted a plea bargain of life in prison without parole in exchange for testifying against Bittaker. They were called the Tool Box Killers because of the everyday tools they used in their crimes.

    WHO WAS THE NEWEST DEATH ROW INMATE?

    Eric Jimenez, 34, arrived on death row on Nov. 29, 2018. A Tulare County jury found him guilty in 2018 of two gang-related murders, six years after Porterville police arrested him in California's Central Valley. His first appeal -- an automatic appeal to the California Supreme Court -- has not been filed.