The message delivered from the steps of the Old Orange County Courthouse to Sacramento was unified.
At the 11th Annual Victims’ Rights Rally on Monday, April 8, District Attorney Todd Spitzer was joined by family members of murder victims, all imploring Gov. Gavin Newsom to reverse the recent moratorium he placed on the death penalty.
The governor’s action suspends further executions from being carried out throughout his term in office, essentially granting a reprieve to the 737 inmates on California’s Death Row.
Spitzer told the gathering he plans to hand-deliver video of the speeches delivered by family members whose loved ones were murdered.
“I hope, governor, that you will watch and listen,” the district attorney said. “I hope you understand the magnitude of your decision. These families have waited decades for justice.”
The rally began at the District Attorney’s Office, where roughly 150 attendees, many family members and loved ones of murder victims, walked east along Civic Center Drive to the courthouse.
Some wore buttons and T-shirts bearing photos of their lost loved one.
They placed a single white carnation on the ground in front of white wreath placed at the base of courthouse steps.
Speakers included Ron Harrington, whose younger brother Keith and his sister-in-law Patti were killed by the Golden State Killer in their Orange County home in 1980.
The Golden State Killer has been charged with 13 special-circumstance murders across six counties, including four murders in Orange County.
“Governor Newsom is now telling all of the (Golden State Killer’s) victims that they must show leniency and compassion,” Harrington said. “I will never be lenient or compassionate to the Golden State Killer. He is the most prolific murderer and rapist, not just in California, but in U.S. history.”
Speaker Steve Herr, whose 26-year-old son, Sam, was murdered by Daniel Wozniak, spoke of the frustration and anguish he and his wife have experienced from the 322 court hearings taking place over more than eight years.
Wozniak was sentenced to death for killing Sam Herr and his friend Julie Kibuishi.
“(Gov. Newsom) did not see the decomposed, dismembered body of my son, whom I had to identify at the mortuary,” Steve Herr said. “Newsom wasn’t there when I requested Sam be sewn together, so he could be buried in one piece, without one hand – because it was never found.”
Nina Salarno Besselman, an Orange County deputy district attorney whose sister, Catina, was murdered in 1979 on her first day of college at the University of Pacific, also spoke.
Besselman’s family went on to form Crime Victims United, a political action advocacy group that fights to strengthen the rights of crime victims.
The rally and march coincides with National Crime Victims Rights Week, held annually to promote victims’ rights and services.
Before the rally began, a reception was held in the law library in the District Attorney’s Office, where a slide show was streamed on a large screen, showing photos of murder victims enjoying happy times with their families.
“I’m watching these photos go by and sadly, like many of you, I know way too many of the victims,” Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said. “Photos of them with their families, families with smiles, photos of them enjoying time together … lives taken way too early, stolen from them quite frankly by very heinous people, but in those photos, there are surviving victims of these crimes … I ask that in our days that we never forget the surviving victims of these crimes and we do everything together to hold these families up and do everything we can to keep working these cases to bring these people to justice.”