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California Gov. Gavin Newsom plans to halt the death penalty

Newsom is expected to announce a reprieve for 737 inmates on death row on Wednesday.
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California Gov. Gavin Newsom is scheduled to sign an executive order Wednesday that would place a moratorium on the state's death penalty, according to his office.

NBC Los Angeles learned of Newsom's plan to use his executive authority to halt the use of the death penalty early Tuesday evening through law enforcement sources.

A subsequent statement from the governor's office detailed the plan to halt the death penalty for all 737 people on California's death row, the nation's largest. The statement includes prepared remarks Newsom planned to deliver at a Wednesday morning news conference.

"Here is the bottom line," the remarks read: "Our death penalty system has been — by any measure — a failure. It has discriminated against defendants who are mentally ill, black and brown, or can’t afford expensive legal representation. It has provided no public safety benefit or value as a deterrent. It has wasted billions of taxpayer dollars. But most of all, the death penalty is absolute. Irreversible and irreparable in the event of human error."

The move comes as a judge was expected to rule on California's recently submitted execution protocol to establish a constitutional method for lethal injection. A ruling in favor of the protocol would reopen the door to executions, according to Newsom's office. California's last execution was in 2006.

His executive action will include a reprieve for all of the state's death row inmates, a withdrawal of the state's lethal injection protocol and "immediate" closure of the execution chamber at San Quentin State Prison, according to the statement.

Newsom's office emphasized that the moratorium does not mean anyone will be released or have their sentences altered under this action.

The governor argues that, with six in 10 death row inmates being people of color, the execution system in California has been unfair. At least five people on California's death row over the years have been found to have been wrongfully convicted, according to Newsom's office.

"The intentional killing of another person is wrong," his prepared remarks read. "And as Governor, I will not oversee the execution of any individual."

President Donald Trump blasted the decision on Wednesday morning, saying, "Defying voters, the Governor of California will halt all death penalty executions of 737 stone cold killers."

Newsom says maintaining death row as the ultimate punishment in California has cost taxpayers $5 billion since 1978.

Michele Hanisee, president of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys in Los Angeles, said in a statement Tuesday that voters have continually supported the use of the death penalty.

Hanisee also said voters in the state rejected propositions to end the practice in both 2006 and 2016.

"Governor Newsom, who supported the failed initiative to end the death penalty in 2006, is usurping the express will of California voters and substituting his personal preferences via this hasty and ill-considered moratorium on the death penalty," the statement said.

California's Supreme Court ruled in 1972 that capital punishment amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. State lawmakers re-enacted the death penalty statute in 1977 before voters reaffirmed capital punishment at the ballot box in 1978.

The state has executed 13 inmates since 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

One in four people on death row in the United States is in the California penal system, according to Newsom's office.

Other states have previously declared moratoriums on the death penalty. Gov. Tom Wolf has done so in Pennsylvania, as did former governors John Hickenlooper in Colorado and John Kitzhaber in Oregon. All three are Democrats.