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Kevin Cooper among 737 California death row inmates spared execution today

Kevin Cooper is set to be executed for a crime he did not commit (Photo courtesy of attorneys for Kevin Cooper)

California is the most populous state in the country and, subsequently, has a large prison population. The state is also at the top of the list when it comes to inmates on death row. Until this week, 737 inmates faced execution by lethal injection for a variety of capital offenses. But now all of that is due to change.

Gov. Gavin Newsome has announced that he will sign a moratorium on Wednesday, March 13, 2019, that will halt all executions in California. In a written statement, Newsome expressed his feeling that the death penalty is inherently flawed.

“Our death penalty system has been — by any measure — a failure,” Newsome said. “It has provided no public safety benefit or value as a deterrent. It has wasted billions of taxpayer dollars. But most of all, the death penalty is absolute, irreversible and irreparable in the event of a human error.”

The moratorium on executions will remain in place as long as Newsome is governor. The order also closes a new $837,000 execution chamber at San Quentin State Prison.

California has been under a federal moratorium against executions since February 2006. At that time, a judge ruled the state’s lethal injection protocol was unconstitutional. The state had a new plan under review, however, in the wake of Newsome’s decision, that plan will be withdrawn.

One of the inmates who will be affected by the moratorium is Kevin Cooper. He was sentenced to death in 1985 for the brutal murder of a family in the Chino Hills suburb of Los Angeles. Cooper’s conviction on the murder charges was appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court, which became bitterly divided. His conviction was upheld, but five of the federal judges issued a blistering 103-page dissent. The judges stated that police and prosecutors impeded Cooper’s right to a fair trial and there was evidence that police fabricated evidence in the case. In 2018, Kim Kardashian took up the cause to halt his execution and give him a new trial.