Larry Lasater was a police officer in Pittsburg, Calif., when he was shot and killed on April 23, 2005, in the line of duty. His killer is on death row.
When Lasater’s mother, Phyllis Loya, heard this month that Gov. Gavin Newsom was halting the state’s death penalty, she said she felt “like my heart had been ripped out. I was in shock. I just couldn’t believe it.”
Newsom’s freeze on executions, along with his statement last week that he’d would like the justice system in California to no longer hand out death sentences, has angered some victim’s families. Others supported the move.
Lasater, a UC Davis graduate and former Marine, was 35 years old when he was killed. His mother said Lasater died two-and-a-half months before his son, Cody, was born.
Loya, 71, has been fighting for justice for her son, but said that fight was shattered by the governor’s order, at least for a short while.
“I allowed myself one day to kind of feel all the heartbreak and pain and go to prayer. The next day, I got up to fight again,” Loya said. “I will never give up on seeking justice for my son.”
Not all families who lost someone to a death row killer support capital punishment. Some backed Newsom’s decision.
Beth Webb lost her sister, Laura, in 2011 when a gunman shot and killed eight people at a salon in Orange County.
She called Newsom’s move to halt executions “brave and honest.”
“He made a decision that was based on factual evidence that there’s a very real possibility that there are innocent people on death row,” Webb said.
Early on after the shooting, Webb said she felt hatred for her sister’s killer. But her own moral beliefs, combined with concerns about potentially innocent people being executed, have strengthened her opposition to the death penalty.
“I believe with every bit of who I am that capital punishment is wrong,” added Webb, who is a board member for Death Penalty Focus, a nonprofit that advocates for the abolition of executions. “That has been solidified, not weakened, since my sister’s murder.”
Loya said she respects how other families approach the issue.
“Everyone wants a different path,” she said. “I would say the people I know, and I know hundreds, we all feel that [Newsom] betrayed us.”
Newsom’s move freezes executions during his time in office.
It doesn’t eliminate death row or change any sentences. A future governor can reverse his decision.