Santa Clara County DA moves to take 15 convicted men off death row

Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen on Friday made public his decision to begin changing the sentences of 15 men from death to life behind bars with no chance of parole.

 "The question is not whether these 15 human beings deserve the death penalty," Rosen said. "It’s whether the two million people of Santa Clara County deserve the indignity and ineffectiveness of the death penalty. It’s an antiquated, racially biased, error-prone system that deters nothing and costs us millions of public dollars and our integrity as a community that cherishes justice."

He added:  "Judges and juries of the People should decide where an inmate dies. God should decide when."

The move comes four years after Rosen stopped charging the death penalty, a decision he said he made in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and a trip to Montgomery, Alabama with his synagogue and a church group.

At the time, Rosen said he was personally moved by stories of slavery and the "abhorrent uses of the death penalty." 

Rosen filed motions in Santa Clara County Superior Court to change the sentences from death to life in prison without parole.

A California law allows district attorneys to resentence a person if they determine the sentences no longer serve justice. 

In a statement, Oscar Cantú, bishop of San Jose, said he applauded the decision. 

"This decision is a significant step forward in respecting the sanctity of all human life, which is a core tenet of Catholic social teaching," Cantú said. "It is a call to move away from punitive justice towards restorative justice that heals and rebuilds lives."

Meanwhile, lawyers for one of California's most infamous convicted killers, Richard Allen Davis, asked a judge in Santa Clara County Superior Court on Friday to overturn his death sentence following the 1993 murder and kidnap of 12-year-old Polly Klaas.

The case was not prosecuted in Santa Clara County Superior Court, but moved there because of the publicity over the killing in Petaluma in the 1990s. 

The Sonoma County DA is arguing not to overturn Davis' death sentence. A judge will issue a decision on May 31.