txking/iStock(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a moratorium on the death penalty Wednesday, halting more than 700 executions in the state.The executive order grants a reprieve to 737 inmates on the country’s largest death row and halts the use of the death penalty in the state, according to the governor’s office.“I do not believe that a civilized society can claim to be a leader in the world as long as its government continues to sanction the premeditated and discriminatory execution of its people,” Newsom said in prepared remarks on Wednesday. “In short, the death penalty is inconsistent with our bedrock values and strikes at the very heart of what it means to be a Californian.”The move is especially controversial considering that California voters rejected a ballot measure that would have repealed the death penalty in 2016.Newsom, who signaled that he wanted to move on the issue when he first took office, cited high costs, racial inequities and lack of deterrent as key reasons behind the decision.“It has discriminated against defendants who are mentally ill, black and brown, or can’t afford expensive legal representation,” Newsom said. “It has provided no public safety benefit or value as a deterrent.“But most of all, the death penalty is absolute. Irreversible and irreparable in the event of human error,” he added, noting that the state had spent $5 billion since 1978 to keep inmates on death row.Newsom, a Democrat, said he is not issuing commutations for the convicted. California’s last execution was in 2006, under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.The executive order will also close the execution chamber at San Quentin State Prison, which has never been used, and withdraws California’s lethal injection protocol.Sharon Sellitto, a victim’s advocate whose brother, Paul Cosner, is believed by authorities to be a murder victim of serial killers Charles Ng and Leonard Lake, told ABC she is “heartbroken” by the governor’s decision.“He’s not the judge, not the jury and was not at the trial,” Sellitto told ABC News in a phone interview Tuesday evening. “He should be concerned with the victims, not the perpetrators.”Sellitto said she received a phone call Tuesday night from the Department of Corrections Office of Victims Survivors Rights and Services giving her a heads-up about the governor’s announcement and providing her with a contact in his office if she wished to speak to anyone further about his decision.“Awful, just awful,” she said. “Nobody should use the word ‘justice’ in my presence again.”Mike Semanchik, managing attorney for the California Innocence Project — which works to exonerate inmates on death row — cheered the move.“Conservative estimates suggest 4 percent of people on death row are innocent. That conservative estimate means 29 of the 737 people are awaiting execution for a crime they did not commit,” Semanchik tweeted Wednesday. “Thank you, Gavin Newsom, for eliminating the risk of executing the innocent!”“It has been my dream for many years that we would end the human rights violation known as the death penalty in California,” Justin Brooks, director of the California Innocence Project and a professor at California Western School of Law, said. “It is certain that as long as there is the death penalty there is the risk of executing innocent people. I am proud of our new Governor for taking this bold step.”Kim Kardashian West, who has championed criminal justice reform and successfully lobbied President Donald Trump to commute a Tennessee woman’s life sentence, said she was “very supportive” of the governor’s decision.Criminal justice experts said Newsom’s decision will most likely be challenged in court.The Association of Deputy District Attorneys, which represents about 1,000 deputy district attorneys in Los Angeles County, called the decision “hasty and ill-considered.”“The voters of the State of California support the death penalty,” Association President Michele Hanisee said in a statement Tuesday amid rumors about the governor’s decision. “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.”Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.
In 1942, 15 high-ranking Nazi officers and German bureaucrats gathered in a villa in a lakeside suburb of Berlin for a secret meeting to discuss the extermination of every Jew in Europe.In 1997, Emmy Award-winning writer Loring Mandel began to craft a screenplay based on the only known surviving record of the Wannsee Conference, where momentum built behind the Final Solution. His work eventually became the 2001 HBO movie “Conspiracy,” starring Kenneth Branagh and Stanley Tucci.In 2012, Caleb Thompson ’14 traveled to New York for an afternoon meeting with Mandel and his agent at the Museum of Modern Art to talk about bringing a version of Mandel’s theatrical adaptation of the screenplay to Harvard.This weekend, “Conspiracy,” a Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club (HRDC) production, premieres at the Loeb Mainstage at the American Repertory Theater. Thompson is the play’s director.The story has been brought to the stage only once before, in an amateur production in East Lansing, Mich. The film is theatrical in that it presents the conference in real time. Thompson, whose first encounter with the film, as a teen, coincided with a budding interest in the stage, expanded on this notion. The movie, he said, was “remarkable … with a complete unity of time and place.” Also, “I think it offers a portrait of human evil unanticipated by any other work or moment in history. The Wannsee Conference represents a certain human instinct or view of the universe taken to its absolute extreme. In my hubris, I thought this could make quite a good play.”Lunch in New York led to a series of email exchanges, conversations, script tinkering, and a recent visit to Harvard by Mandel, who sat in on a rehearsal and met with the cast and crew.Mandel, 85, penned the stage version with an eye toward using the play as a teaching tool and conversation-starter in schools, churches, and synagogues. “At our first meeting [Caleb] asked if I was adamant about making no changes,” recalled Mandel. “I told him that I was always interested in improving it, if there is a way to improve it.”Throughout rehearsals, the two worked closely to fine-tune the script. While the changes amounted mostly to slight tweaks and adjustments, Mandel also worked through a substantive revision of the end of one crucial scene.“Loring took the script away, emailed me three or four days later and said ‘How about this?’ ” said Thompson. “It totally solved the problem. It’s fantastic. It’s an indication of his generosity of spirit that he has been happy to rewrite parts of his script.”Beyond being a boon for the cast and crew, Mandel’s engagement has shown how near the project is to his heart, said Thompson.“At Harvard we do get opportunities to work with professionals, but it’s very rare that we get to work with a professional who, I think, is so invested in the project. He is invested in this being a success.”Mandel was introduced to the idea for “Conspiracy” in the 1990s by his friend Frank Pierson, a screenwriter-director whose writing credits included cinema classics “Dog Day Afternoon” and “Cool Hand Luke.” (Pierson died in 2012.)“I had never heard of the Wannsee Conference,” said Mandel. But when Pierson told him it was the first thing he had encountered about the Holocaust that angered him rather than making him want to cry, Mandel grew interested. After researching the conference, he signed on to the project as screenwriter, with Pierson set to direct.Although the pair wanted to make the film as realistic as possible, confining the action to the conference alone, they fretted that 15 men talking at a table might flop in a culture accustomed to “physical action, explosions, and violent confrontations.”They had no need to worry. “Conspiracy” was critically acclaimed and won several awards, including Emmys for best actor (Branagh) and writing (Mandel).Thompson has stayed true to the movie’s sparse model for the stage. The 80-minute play takes place in one room. Though he forbade his cast members from watching the film, he helped them research in detail the inner workings of the Third Reich and the lives of their characters. He also relied on Mandel, who used his visit to offer the actors insight on the motivations and complex relationships of the various characters.Difficult material is nothing new for the young director. He staged his first play — David Mamet’s charged “Glengarry Glen Ross” — in high school. At Harvard, Thompson has directed plays such as the 17th-century Spanish drama “Life is a Dream” by Pedro Calderón de la Barca, which explores themes of free will and fate, and “Talk Radio,” a play by Eric Bogosian about a truculent radio host.But directing “Conspiracy” at Harvard, from which so many of tomorrow’s leaders have and are setting out, had special relevance, he said.While people of his generation tend to associate racial hatred with ignorance, he said, “Conspiracy” makes the point that “the greatest crime in human history was perpetrated by 15 intelligent, educated, enlightened, sophisticated, witty, urbane, idealistic young men.“The guys sitting at that table thought they were the most progressive society in the world. They thought that they were creating a sort of racial utopia … [‘Conspiracy’] is a kind of reminder that we always have to temper of our intellectual advancement with a moral awareness.”As for the actors, connecting to their characters has sometimes proved daunting. Portraying profound evil is no easy task. “It’s extremely challenging. If you are to play a part properly or convincingly, some tiny part of you has to empathize,” said Thompson.Senior Adam Conner, whose roles with HRDC have run from hilarious to heart-rending, said that while he welcomed the challenge of playing Holocaust “architect” Reinhard Heydrich, he also feared his emotions might get in the way.Conner credited Thompson’s deft direction with getting the most from his cast.“The improvement in my performance — solely a result of Caleb’s input and direction — has put me in a place I know I would never have gotten with this character by myself.”“Conspiracy,” supported by Harvard’s Office for the Arts, opens Friday at 8 p.m. at the Loeb Drama Center, with performances to run through Nov. 17 and then Nov. 21 through Nov. 23. This Saturday, Loring Mandel will take part in a discussion following the show.