California Gov. Newsom commutes sentences for 21, including killers

Fourteen of the commuted cases involved murder or related charges.

California Governor Gavin Newsom speaks to the press in the spin room after the sixth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles on Dec. 19, 2019.Agustin Paullier / AFP - Getty Images file

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday commuted 21 prison sentences and pardoned five people who had already served their time behind bars, citing the coronavirus pandemic as a factor in his decision.

Fourteen of the commuted cases involved murder or related charges

In two of the cases, the victims were children. A pregnant woman was the victim in another case.

Among those who had sentences commuted were Suzanne Johnson, 75, of San Diego County, who had served 22 years for assaulting a child who died; 64-year-old Joann Parks of Los Angeles County who served 27 years for the deaths of her three young children who were killed in a house fire, which Parks denies setting; and Rodney McNeal, 50, of San Bernardino County, who served 22 years for fatally stabbing his pregnant wife, a crime he also denies.

Newsom's office said the clemency grants were in progress before the coronavirus outbreak, which has sickened more than 4,200 Californians.

Attorneys representing inmates this week asked federal judges to free thousands of inmates to help prisons better confront the pandemic, which has sickened one inmate and 12 employees. Newsom said mass inmate releases would further burden strained community health care systems and homelessness programs. But he stopped transfers into the system for 30 days.

The crisis affected his clemency decisions, spokeswoman Vicky Waters said in an email.

Newsom “also considered the public health impact of each grant, as well as each inmate’s individual health status and the suitability of their post-release plans, including housing," the governor's office said in a statement.

Two of the pardons were intended to help lawful immigrants who face the possibility of being deported based on crimes they committed years ago. Waters said that would be “an unjust collateral consequence that would harm their families and communities.”