We are deeply troubled with Governor Newsom’s decision on numerous fronts. Chief among them is the Governor’s long-standing and deep understanding of the Armenian Genocide and his familiarity with the consequences it has had on generations of survivors, as the Governor himself acknowledges in his ruling. In addition, it is clear from the myriad of letters sent to the Governor by community and religious leaders as well as many elected officials who unequivocally support the release of Mr. Sassounian, that our community stands united in its call for a just decision on humanitarian grounds. Moreover, not one but two Parole Boards have unanimously decided that Mr. Sassounian is more than sufficiently rehabilitated after serving his entire adult life from the young age of 19 and that after 38 years, parole would be justified. Yet in the face of all these overwhelming calls for Hampig Sassounian’s immediate release, it appears that the Governor has made a decision which is inconsistent with his own record and public stance on judicial and prison reform, human rights, and criminal justice, causing confusion, profound disappointment and deep frustration within our community.
We are also very concerned that our State’s criminal justice system is being held hostage by foreign influence and threats from the Turkish government not only through the highest levels of the Trump Administration but even directly aimed at the Governor himself. None of these outside influences should have a voice in determining the fair administration of justice in this case. American civil liberties should never be encroached upon by any foreign entity, and the Governor has been entrusted by the citizens of California to protect those rights and liberties. Sadly, it appears that he may have succumbed to outside pressure without any justification whatsoever and after taking such bold stances against similar pressures in other instances.
During these extraordinarily challenging times of the pandemic and civil unrest in which equal justice for all is the common mantra sought by all segments of society, Governor Newsom has a heightened duty to grant humanitarian relief to prisoners who have served their time and have demonstrated reform and rehabilitation. As the Governor’s written decision states, “I am required to ‘give great weight to the diminished culpability of youth as compared to adults, the hallmark features of youth, and any subsequent growth and increased maturity of the prisoner’ when determining a youthful offender’s suitability for parole. … The question I must answer is whether Mr. Sassounian will pose a current danger to the public if released from prison.” Yet in the case of Mr. Sassounian, who at the age of 57 fully intends upon his release to immediately relocate to Armenia and thus will not be a current danger to the public or a further financial burden to our State if released, the Governor opted to proactively and affirmatively reverse a well-reasoned and fully investigated decision of his own Parole Board and the Board preceding it, both of which came to identical decisions after doing their own due diligence. Mr. Sassounian has served more than an average life sentence given his status as a youthful offender, and no one can credibly argue that justice has not been served for the crime of which he was convicted. He has fully rehabilitated himself and shown every indication that he is capable and ready to lead a peaceful life in the Republic of Armenia.
On behalf of our organization and the Armenian-American community whose interests it represents, we call for action, accountability, and a just and humanitarian result in the most expedient manner possible. Given the fact that Governor Newsom will have another opportunity next year to grant parole to Hampig Sassounian, the universal calls for social justice and equal treatment under the law, amplified even more during these challenging times, deserve no less.
The complete text of Governor Newsom’s decision can be found here.