Family members of murder victims join Rescue California's efforts to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Family members of murder victims joined organizers from Rescue California in downtown Fresno to support the recall effort against Governor Gavin Newsom. They say the governor is too soft on crime and fear his policies will shorten sentences of violent criminals and endanger the public.

"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," said Mark Klaas.

In 1993, Klaas' 12-year-old daughter, Polly, was having a sleepover with two friends when she was kidnapped and murdered in Northern California. Her killer was sentenced to death in 1996 and remains on death row.

"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," said Klaas.

California hasn't executed anyone in 15 years. Two years ago, Governor Newsom signed an executive order placing a moratorium on the death penalty in California.

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."

Critics have also raised concerns about an expanded state program that makes 76,000 inmates eligible for shorter sentences though good conduct credits.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation sent a statement to Action News saying the credits are an incentive that have to be earned and, "This is not an early release program, and the changes...do not equate in the automatic release of any incarcerated individual."

"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," said 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.

"Unfortunately, the three strikes law along with the 10-20 life are being rundown to a point where they're no longer being effectively being obeyed," he said.

The ACLU of Northern California sent a statement in response to Monday's news conference.

"No person in California should ever have to fear that they could be imprisoned or even executed because of their race or income-level. But right now, our state's criminal justice system is not fair or just. It is a tool of racial oppression that treats Black people, Brown people, and poor people with cruelty, and subjects them to unequal treatment under the law. Governor Newsom was right to recognize this, and his decision to stop executions and expand opportunities for early release were the right thing to do. These policies will save lives and safely reunite husbands with wives, parents with children, and friends with their loved ones.

Much more still needs to be done to bring our criminal justice system in line with our values, and we can't afford to go backwards. Together, we can be compassionate, fair, and work to undo the racist structures and mechanisms that uphold mass incarceration in California."

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 Golden 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 supporting the Recall of Gavin Newsom campaign."
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