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Governor Brown Moves Toward Abolition of Death Penalty in California

Jan. 31, 1963 - Governor Edmund G. Brown moved today for the eventual abolition of the death penalty in California. (Pictured below is the gas chamber at San Quentin Prison). As a first step, he sent a special message to the Legislature at Sacramento asking for a four-year moratorium to test “this highly emotional and divisive issue.” The Governor submitted statistics to show that California had led all states in the last three years in the number of executions with 28. He said that New York, “a state similar to ours in population, ethnic concentration, and socioeconomic structure,” had put only eight persons to death in the same period. “We had 11 executions last year alone, and New York had none,” Mr. Brown informed the legislators. “Is it not time to ask ourselves why California broadens its application of capital punishment in an age when most states and nations are turning away from it as an acceptable deterrent to capital crime?” This is an issue that plagued Governor Brown during his first term, when during agitation over the Caryl Chessman case in March 1960, he called a special session of the Legislature to consider barring the death penalty. He lost, and Chessman, a long-time resident of death row, went to the gas chamber.


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