San Quentin Shutters Eerie ‘Death Chamber’

Hours after Gov. Gavin Newsom's death penalty moratorium was announced, creepy signs like "Gas chamber CLOSED" were posted.

San Quentin State Prison cleared out the electric chair in its death chamber on Wednesday. (Photo courtesy the California Governor’s Office)

The 737 people on death row in California can breathe a collective sigh of relief as Gov. Gavin Newsom puts a moratorium on what’s euphemistically titled “capital punishment.”

Newsom signed an executive order on Wednesday putting the practice on hold and ordering an immediate clearing out of government rooms dedicated to killing people at San Quentin State Prison in the North Bay. By 12:45 p.m., crews put the green, boxy electric chairs complete with straps onto a truck and posted signs reading “Gas chamber CLOSED” and “lethal injection facility CLOSED per Executive Order N-09-19.”

“Our death penalty system has been, by all measures, a failure. It has discriminated against defendants who are mentally ill, black and brown, or can’t afford expensive legal representation,” Newsom said. “It has provided no public safety benefit or value as a deterrent. It has wasted billions of taxpayer dollars. Most of all, the death penalty is absolute. It’s irreversible and irreparable in the event of human error.”

The finality of the death penalty is made that much more alarming when the person executed is later found to be innocent. At least five in California and 164 people nationwide on death row have been found wrongfully convicted since 1973. More than six in 10 people on California’s death row are people of color, according to Newsom’s office.

California has also spent $5 billion on the system and executed 13 people since 1978. The lethal injection method has met legal challenges that have put the practice on hold since 2006, when Clarence Ray Allen was executed after 23 years on death row. 

“‘Hoka Hey, it’s a good day to die.’ Thank you very much. I love you all. Goodbye,” were Allen’s last chosen words.

California figures like Sen. Kamala Harris, state Sen. Scott Wiener, and Gascon chimed in to applaud Newsom’s moratorium on Wednesday.

“State-sanctioned killings do not deter crime, but in light of the unequal application of the death penalty to communities of color it does inflict an extraordinary amount of harm to the moral authority of our justice system,” Gascon said in a statement. “The death penalty is morally dubious at best and it’s time to end it.”

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