Wife of slain of­fi­cer has ques­tions for Gov. New­som

Merced Sun-Star - - Front Page - BY SHAWN JANSEN [email protected]­ced­sun-star.com

Michelle Gray felt she had to have a talk with her chil­dren on Tues­day night. She wanted to give them a heads up that Gov. Gavin New­som an­nounced he was putting a stop to the death penalty in Cal­i­for­nia.

New­som signed an ex­ec­u­tive or­der Wed­nes­day morn­ing grant­ing re­prieves to all 737 Cal­i­for­ni­ans await­ing ex­e­cu­tions.

One of those in­mates on death row is Cuit­lahuac Tahua “Tao” Rivera, a gang mem­ber who gunned down Merced po­lice Of­fi­cer Stephan Gray dur­ing a traf­fic stop on April 15, 2004. Rivera has been sit­ting on death row at San Quentin State Prison for more than a decade.

“Un­for­tu­nately there was prob­a­bly close to 740 fam­i­lies that had that same dis­cus­sion (Tues­day) night,” Michelle Gray said in an in­ter­view with the Sun-Star. “I felt I had to tell my kids of the sit­u­a­tion.”

Gray didn’t want her 17year old daugh­ter, Cameron, to be caught off guard if the topic was dis­cussed in her gov­ern­ment class at school.

“As long as (Rivera) stays in prison - and I’m con­fi­dent he will - that’s what we can fo­cus on,” Michelle Gray said. “We can push on and be suc­cess­ful as a fam­ily.”

New­som’s ac­tion comes three years after Cal­i­for­nia vot­ers re­jected an ini­tia­tive to end the death penalty and, in­stead, passed a mea­sure to speed up ex­e­cu­tions.

New­som says the death penalty sys­tem has dis­crim­i­nated against men­tally ill de­fen­dants and peo­ple of color. He says it has not made the state safer and has wasted

bil­lions of tax­payer dol­lars. New­som called the death penalty “in­ef­fec­tive, ir­re­versible and im­moral.” “You, as tax­pay­ers – you have spent $5 bil­lion since we re­in­stated the death penalty in this state,” he said. “What have we got­ten for that?” New­som feels killing other peo­ple is wrong.

“If you rape, we don’t rape,” he said. “I think if some­one kills, we don’t kill.”

Cal­i­for­nia hasn’t ex­e­cuted any­one since 2006 be­cause of le­gal chal­lenges to the state’s ex­e­cu­tion pro­to­col. But ex­e­cu­tions for more than 20 in­mates who have ex­hausted their ap­peals could have re­sumed if those chal­lenges were cleared up, and New­som has said he wor­ried that could hap­pen soon.

“You would think the death penalty is al­ready sus­pended. It’s kind of a bro­ken sys­tem be­cause we don’t en­force it now,” said Merced Po­lice Chief Chris Good­win.

Good­win says the vic­tim’s emo­tions aren’t taken into ac­count when sus­pects are pun­ished.

“In most cases, the vic­tims didn’t do any­thing wrong,” Good­win said. “If a bur­glary sus­pect waits for you to go to work and then breaks into your house and steals your stuff, a lot of time the state no longer sends the sus­pect to prison. He’ll get com­mu­nity ser­vice. It’s a dis­ser­vice to the vic­tims.”

New­som has long op­posed the death penalty. While cam­paign­ing for a mea­sure to re­peal the death penalty in 2016, he told the Modesto Bee ed­i­to­rial board he would “be ac­count­able to the will of the vot­ers,” if he be­came gov­er­nor.

“I would not get my per­sonal opin­ions in the way of the pub­lic’s right to make a de­ter­mi­na­tion of where they want to take us” on the death penalty, he said.

Michelle Gray says she never thought the ex­e­cu­tion of Rivera would hap­pen dur­ing her life­time. When Propo­si­tion 66 passed in 2016, she says the peo­ple of Cal­i­for­nia made it clear they were in fa­vor of the death penalty.

“I’d love to have the op­por­tu­nity to sit down with the gov­er­nor and learn about his views and how he feels about this,” she said. “I’d like to ex­plain to him how the ver­dict brought us a lot of peace and al­lowed us to move on as a fam­ily. I’d like to ask him if he’s ever been im­pacted by the loss of some­one he loves deeply, who was killed at the hands of an­other per­son.

“He didn’t think it was right for an in­di­vid­ual to take any­one’s life. Well, Rivera took my hus­band’s life. When the jury came back with their ver­dict, I felt jus­tice was in place.”

The mora­to­rium will be in place for the du­ra­tion of New­som’s time in of­fice, the gov­er­nor’s of­fice said.

Cal­i­for­nia is one of 31 states with cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Con­fer­ence of State Leg­is­la­tures. In re­cent years, other states have abol­ished the death penalty and sev­eral other gov­er­nors have placed mora­to­ri­ums on ex­e­cu­tions.

“This af­fects (Gray’s) whole fam­ily, it af­fects the po­lice de­part­ment,” Good­win said. “That case goes from sen­tenc­ing him to death to sus­pended, what is the im­pact here on the com­mu­nity? What’s the im­pact on the jury? We’re sav­ing one per­son’s life who ul­ti­mately took an­other per­son’s life. It doesn’t make sense to me.

“My per­sonal opin­ion is I think not only should we have the death penalty but they should en­force it.”

Sacra­mento Bee re­porter Sophia Bollag con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Stepan Gray

AN­DREW KUHN [email protected]­ced­sun-star.com

Michelle Gray, left, speaks with Merced Po­lice Of­fi­cer Don King, right, fol­low­ing a me­mo­rial cer­e­mony for her late hus­band Merced Po­lice Of­fi­cer Stephan Gray at the Merced Po­lice De­part­ment in Merced, Calif., Fri­day, April 15, 2016. Of­fi­cer Gray, 34, was shot and killed in the line of duty April 15, 2004 while chas­ing a gang mem­ber.

Cuit­lahuac Rivera

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