Murder victims’ families join the fight to recall Gov. Newsom: ‘Denied justice to the victims’

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FRESNO, CA- Several families of murder victims in California are speaking out about why Democrat Governor Gavin Newsom should be removed from office through a recall election.

According to reports, family members of murder victims joined organizers from Rescue California in downtown Fresno to support the recall against Newsom, claiming he is too soft on crime. They fear that his policies will shorten prison sentences of violent criminals and endanger the public. 

Mark Klaas, who’s daughter was murdered, said:

“He said, ‘we owe you victims of crime.’ Well, the way he paid back the victims of crime was by releasing tens of thousands of violent recidivist offenders, people not unlike the individual that murdered my daughter.”

In 1993, Klaas’ 12-year-old daughter, Polly, was having a sleepover with two friends when she was kidnapped and murdered in Northern California. Three years later, in 1996, her killer was sentenced to death and remains on death row. Klaas said:

“At some point in time, we have to again begin executing some of these monsters and we have to remember who these guys are. These are the worst of the worst.”

Speaking about Newsom, Nina Salarno, president of Crime Victims United in California, said in a statement:

“He has blatantly denied justice to the victims and he has caused chaos and crime in our streets.”

Salarno, whose sister was murdered in 1979, and others in her organization, joined Rescue California, at a press conference on the steps of the state Capitol on Tuesday, July 20th.

According to reports, the advocacy comes as Newsom rolls out a number of policies that will decrease the time people spend incarcerated. 

In May, the state announced that as many as 76,000 inmates, including people convicted of violent or repeat felonies, might get the opportunity to leave prison early in exchange for good behavior and rehabilitation.

The California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation sent a statement to Action News saying the credits are an incentive and have to be earned, stating:

“This is not an early release program and the changes do not equate in the automatic release of any incarcerated individual.”

Advocates for Newsom’s policies claim that the move would reward inmates who better themselves, while critics said it would endanger the public. In 2019, Newsom suspended the state’s death penalty program, calling it “discriminatory and immoral.”

At the time, he granted 737 reprieves to the condemned inmates on the nation’s largest Death Row. During a press conference in March 2019, Newsom said:

“If one out of 25 people on death row is innocent, if that’s the case, that means if we move forward executing 737 people in California, we will have executed 30 people that are innocent. I don’t know about you, I can’t sign my name to that.”

Mike Reynolds of Fresno who helped create Three Strikes, imposing life sentences for criminals convicted of three serious, violent felonies. His daughter was murdered during an armed robbery in Fresno’s Tower District in 1992. He stated:

“It’s been 29 years since I’ve lost my daughter and there’s not a single day that goes by that I don’t think about her.”

He added:

“Unfortunately, the three strikes law along with the 10-20 life are being rundown to a point where they’re no longer effectively being obeyed.”

Newsom had asked Klaas to speak with him about the death penalty decision. Klaas said:

“He doesn’t care about us. Calling a crime victim to drive 100 miles to tell him that he was declaring a death penalty moratorium and then sending him on his way is one of the more disrespectful acts I’ve ever seen perpetrated on somebody who has been violated by violent crime.”

Sandra Friend’s eight-year-old son, Michael Lyons was kidnapped, raped, and killed in 1996 while he was walking home from school in Yuba City. The perpetrator was sentenced to death, but the sentence was never carried out. Friend said:

“To have that taken from us is unimaginable and there’s no way to express the deep hurt. Newsom had let us know in the most unimaginable way.”

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that 21 Republicans, eight Democrats, and 12 people with “other” or no party affiliation are on the ballot for the September 14th election. The Chronicle stated:

“Voters will be asked two questions: Should Newsom be recalled? And if so, who should replace him? If a majority votes yes on the first question, whoever receives the most votes on the second question will replace the governor for the rest of the term, which is scheduled to end on January 23rd.”

Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims was scheduled to attend the event, but could not make it. She released a statement, saying in part:

“It is time to stop the downhill slide and live up to the name of the Gold State. We can once again be the destination for those wanting a better life, not the state to flee from. For these reasons and more, I am support the Recall of Gavin Newsom campaign.”

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Newsom pardons 14 inmates, including convicts sentenced in gang-related killings and other murders

May 30th, 2021

CALIFORNIA – Governor Gavin Newsom announced the pardons of 14 prison inmates earlier in May, reportedly including two firefighters who were facing deportation in connection with their previous convictions.

On May 28th, Governor Newsom announced the 14 pardons and commuted the sentences of 13 other inmates. He also afforded what were designated as medical reprieves for eight inmates – mostly in their 60’s and 70’s – for various high-risk medical conditions.

Among those pardoned were Kao Ta Saelee and Bounchan Keola, both of whom were noted as having helped fight the California wildfires back in 2020. Keola was said to have been injured during the fall of 2020 when a tree reportedly fell on him while fighting the wildfires.

However, both Keola and Saelee were also born in Laos and came to the United States when they were reportedly young children, and their criminal convictions were said to have put them at risk of deportation.

Both Keola and Saelee were said to have spent over 20 years in prison for crimes committed when they were teenagers. Saelee had been convicted in connection to three armed robberies of convenience stores and Keola was convicted in connection with killing one and injuring two in gang-related drive-by shooting.

After both Keola and Saelee had finished their respective prison sentences, they had both spent months in federal detention facilities as their LPR (lawful permanent resident) statuses were at risk of being revoked due to the criminal convictions.

However, with the pardons put into place, both Keola and Saelee will likely not face any further threat of deportation since having their convictions expunged.

Governor Newsom described the two former inmates as living “an upright life” since being released from prison.

In a show of gratitude, Keola delivered the following statement:

“Being a Californian means believing that people can turn their lives around and deserve second chances but also that we are tied together and owe a duty to serve one another. I have tried my best to earn that second chance and am thankful that the governor recognized that with a pardon today.”

Saelee also delivered a statement, thanking the governor as well for the pardon received:

“I cannot express how grateful I am to have received a pardon and to finally be safe from the threat of deportation and permanent separation from my family. California is the only home I have ever known.”

As for those who received commuted sentences, the governor afforded reprieve to many convicted in connection to various murder cases that were not the individuals who actually committed the murder in their respective crimes.

One of those commuted sentence recipients was Michael Romero, who was sentenced to 23 years in prison for a 2008 drive-by shooting where he was a passenger inside of the vehicle where the actual shooter fired on a rival gang member.

Another was Omar Walker, who was serving a life sentence for 1995 robbery in which his co-defendant had fatally shot someone in the commission of the crime.

Samuel Redmond was also given a commuted sentence under similar circumstances, as he was given a life sentence for being the getaway driver for a drive-by shooting on a rival gang that killed two people back in 2000.

Reportedly the state Senate will be considering a bill in the coming days that would expand a 2018 law that limited felony murder convictions to those who actively participated in the killing of a victim.

This expected expansion on the law would allow judges to use their discretion when sentencing those convicted of felony murder as a special circumstance – as the current sentencing guidelines allows for only death or life without parole.

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In other news regarding California, lawmakers within the state tried – unsuccessfully – to remove or reduce the penalties for gun enhancements for crimes. 

Here’s that previous report. 

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CALIFORNIA – Reportedly, Democratic lawmakers in California are seeking to either dramatically reduce, or outright eliminate, certain sentencing enhancements for crimes committed while using a firearm.

While this effort failed to advance through the legislature on May 20th, the proponents behind this effort are intent on moving forward to see this legislation to one day come to light.

Greg Fidell, who serves as the policy manager of Initiate Justice, lamented the fact that AB 1509 did not manage to make it through the Appropriations Committee earlier in May:

“AB 1509 was held in the Appropriations committee and will not move forward this year. This is very painful – but we will be back stronger next year. I would like to apologize to all the families and currently incarcerated people who were counting on this. I’m sorry. Truly.”

There apparently were some Democratic state lawmakers who were backing what was known as the Anti-Racism Sentencing Reform Act, which the act meant to reduce the penalization associated with crimes that were subject to sentencing enhancements – such as ones committed with firearms.

Apparently, there is a perception that sentencing enhancements are somehow racist considering that figures show 89% of the approximately 40,000 inmates serving prison sentences with gun enhancements in California are people of color.

With respect to California, possession of a firearm while committing a serious crime, like attempted murder or robbery, means an offender could receive an additional 10 years on top of their sentence for whatever the underlying crime is.

If said firearm is fired during the commission of a crime then the sentencing enhancement could add 20 years on top of an underlying offense, if someone is injured by a firearm – then it could be an additional 25 years to life.

What the failed bill would have accomplished is reducing those sentencing enhancements to a term of an additional one, two or three years maximum – while also repealing gun enhancements for certain lesser crimes.

Restore Justice executive director Jobi Cates alleges that longer sentences for certain offenses don’t “deter crime”:

“There’s ample research that long sentences don’t deter crime. It’s actually the swiftness and the surety of consequences that deters crime, not the length of the sentence.”

“The length of the sentence just costs the state and communities and families hundreds of thousands and millions of dollars and destroys lives. It doesn’t make us safer. It’s a myth.”

Kent Scheidegger, who serves as the legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, refutes that notion posed by Cates, pointing out the obvious that longer sentences for offenders does improve public safety by removing those offenders from the public for an extended period of time:

“The reason they should be sentenced more severely is the use of the gun greatly increases the danger that someone’s actually going to be killed.”

“Certainly a longer sentence for a habitual criminal does improve public safety by preventing them from committing crimes during the time of the sentence.”

Democrat Alex Lee, the main sponsor of the failed bill, claimed that AB 1509 “is about undoing failed policies of systemic racism in our justice system that have led to over incarceration.”

Laurie Palmer, who founded the community group Go Get Your Kid after her son was shot, notes that while some sentences for youthful offenders might be a little egregious – she is also highly critical of the idea of reducing potential 25-year sentences to 1-3 years:

“Reducing a 25-year sentence to one, two or three years – I don’t think so. But 25, that’s too much for some, they’re just kids.”

What Palmer found most troubling of this proposed legislation was the fact that had the legislation passed, then a whole lot of violent offenders would have been walking out of prison at once:

“We already have pretty violent communities right now. If you’re talking about just releasing a whole bunch of violent criminals like right now — no, no, no, no. That ain’t going to go well.”

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