Governor Gavin Newsom imposed a moratorium on carrying out the death penalty in California on Wednesday, granting a reprieve to 737 condemned inmates - the largest death row population in the United States.
His action comes three years after California voters rejected an initiative to end the death penalty, instead passing a measure to speed up executions.
With 24 inmates on death row who have exhausted their appeals, Newsom in February said he feared California could potentially execute "more prisoners than any other state in modern history" if no action was taken.
More than 900 people have been sentenced to death in California since 1978 but only 13 have been executed.
Also on death row is Scott Peterson, who murdered his pregnant wife Laci Peterson and their unborn child in 2002. Its death row has the most inmates of any US state.
Newsom says the death penalty system has discriminated against mentally ill defendants and people of color.
"As a career law enforcement official, I have opposed the death penalty because it is immoral, discriminatory, ineffective, and a gross misuse of taxpayer dollars", she said in a statement.
Newsom does not have the power to overturn California's death penalty law, Kreitzberg said, but he can refuse to sign any death warrants and can commute death sentences to life imprisonment.
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Newsom cited discrimination against minorities and the poor and his Catholic background as the reasons why he "will not oversee the execution of any individual".
While the governor's move is certain to be challenged in court, aides say his power to grant reprieves is written into the state's constitution.
The California moratorium will become the fourth in the nation, following similar ones issued under Democratic governors in Oregon, Colorado, and California.
"But most of all, the death penalty is absolute, irreversible and irreparable in the event of human error", he continued. Death row inmates are also much more likely to have a mental illness, brain damage or brain injury, or to be intellectually disabled.
This could create a challenge for Newsom, since his executive order would be denying the will of the California people.
Weight should be given to Newsom's point that a number of death row occupants are eventually released because they were wrongly convicted.
"Our death penalty system has been-by any measure-a failure", Newsom added. While campaigning for a measure to repeal the death penalty in 2016, he told The Modesto Bee editorial board he would "be accountable to the will of the voters", if he were elected governor.
Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have already abolished capital punishment.