CJZ 2021.jpg

Cynthia Zimmer is Kern County's district attorney.

As Californians decide whether to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom, it is worth considering what value the governor and his appointees place on the lives of murder victims.

Two months after taking office, Gov. Newsom granted reprieve to all 737 convicted murderers sentenced to the death penalty, even to those 25 inmates on death row who murdered more than five victims. Is the life of a murder victim worth the life of a convicted killer sentenced to the death penalty? No, the governor tells us.

The governor and his Parole Board are granting releases to convicted killers more frequently than ever before. Just last month, the Parole Board recommended release to Kern County murderer Michael Panella, who has served just 20 years of a life sentence for the murder-by-torture of an infant. We also saw a parole recommendation after 20 years for Parker Chamberlin, who brutally murdered his own mother. Both local cases involve grants of parole being given at the earliest possible time under the law. The Parole Board’s justification for release was because of the ages of the offenders — Panella, because he turned 50 years old and qualified for "elderly parole," and Chamberlin, because he was under 26 years old when he killed and qualified for "youth offender parole." These killers are not a danger to society, we are told by Newsom’s parole commissioners, as if a 50-year-old is incapable of killing another infant, or a 36-year-old who perpetrated a murder is incapable of killing again.

The parole commissioners are appointed by the governor, earn about $150,000 per year, and depend on the governor’s reappointment to keep their jobs. Previous governors from both political parties have sparingly permitted the release of killers, but the more recent trend from Gov. Newsom and his appointees has been not only to allow convicted murders to be released on parole, but to allow their release at the earliest possible opportunity. Is the life of a murder victim worth keeping a convicted murderer in prison for longer than 20 years? No, the Parole Board and the governor increasingly tell us.

While Kern County continues to attend and argue against the release of killers, the same is no longer true in Los Angeles, where Newsom-endorsed DA George Gascón has instituted a policy banning prosecutors from attending parole hearings. This is part of the reason that Sirhan Sirhan, who assassinated presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy in Los Angeles in 1968, was recommended to be released with no objection or appearance from L.A. prosecutors, despite having been denied parole 15 times since his conviction for first-degree murder. What is the life of a murdered presidential candidate and beloved American figure worth? Certainly not the time it takes to show up at the parole hearing, nor the breath required to represent the family and public that would dare oppose the release of a convicted assassin, the governor and Gascón, his DA of choice, remind us.

No longer can we rely on the conscience of the governor and Parole Board to value victims’ lives when considering parole for their killers. A murderer being released from a life sentence used to be a rare anomaly, but now it has become commonplace. Californians are being told by the governor and his appointees what a life is worth, instead of the other way around. This recall should be a reminder to those in power that we still value the lives of our victims and demand justice for them.

Cynthia Zimmer is Kern County's district attorney.