Gov. Newsom eases penalties for 35 former felons, including pardons for immigrants facing deportation

Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a news conference in Sacramento on June 5, 2020. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a news conference in Sacramento on June 5, 2020. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom eased the sentences or criminal histories of nearly three dozen current or former felons on Tuesday, including 10 pardons intended to aid immigrants who face the possibility of deportation.

“Their deportations would be an unjust collateral consequence that would harm their families and communities,” his office said in announcing the actions. One of the 10 is currently in a federal immigration detention facility.

The 10 were among 22 pardons, 13 commutations and four medical reprieves, the last a category prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.

The state corrections secretary and a federal court-appointed official who controls the prison medical system recommended the medical risk clemency review. They are in addition to thousands of other earlier releases intended to free space within the state’s prison system to slow the virus’ spread or allow for better treatment.

A reprieve allows inmates to temporarily serve their sentences in alternative locations in the community.

Recipients included 71-year-old Larry Johnson, serving a life term for a third-strike crime of stealing a VCR and gaming system from a home in 1995, according to Newsom’s office. The others are ages 87, 71 and 68 and similarly are serving life terms for third-strike offenses of robbery or burglary.

Pardons don’t erase convictions, but they can help immigrants mitigate the criminal histories that can be used as the basis for their deportations.

Among them, for example, is Somdeng “Danny” Thongsy, 41, who entered the U.S. legally when he was 2 years old. He seeking to avoid deportation back to Laos for killing one rival gang member and injuring two others in 1997, when he was age 17. He was sentenced to more than 27 years in prison.

Newsom’s office also highlighted his pardoning of Violet Henderson, 66, who once was one of the few women to help build the Bay Bridge. She was convicted of conspiring to commit grand theft when she was 18 and served 18 months in prison before going on to lead the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s waste reduction and recycling programs. She expects to graduate from the University of California, Berkeley, with a double major in 2022.

The 13 commutations modify criminal sentences for those currently in prison, mostly granting immediate parole or allowing inmates to seek parole.

The include, for instance, David Diaz, who has served 21 years for attempting to murder a victim who says Diaz didn’t do it, according to Newsom’s office. He was 19 when he was convicted of shooting and injuring a rival gang member.

Other commutations include those convicted of murder, second-degree murder, attempted murder, assault and carjacking,

Since taking office nearly two years ago, Newsom, a Democrat, has granted 63 pardons, 78 commutations and the four reprieves.

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