Oregon Gov Kate Brown Pulls Plug On Death Penalty

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has commuted the sentences of all state prisoners currently on death row, and she means it: She's even had the execution chamber dismantled. This effectively ends capital punishment in Oregon.

Fox News will probably insist that Brown, with just weeks left in office, has unleashed vicious murderers onto the streets like the Batman villain Bane. However, the 17 individuals formerly facing execution will instead serve life sentences without the possibility of parole.

After announcing her decision, Brown told Oregon Public Radio, "I’ve been very clear to Oregonians I’m opposed to the death penalty because it’s both dysfunctional and immoral." She's right! There's no credible evidence that the death penalty is an effective deterrent more than a blunt instrument of vengeance. Even if the state should execute people, it definitely shouldn't execute innocent people, which happens far too often. According to the Equal Justice Initiative, for "every eight people executed, one person on death row has been exonerated."

“The death penalty has never been administered fairly or equitably in Oregon,” Brown said. “And in fact, it’s been quite arbitrary. And that is not how a criminal justice system should work.”


Study: Prosecutorial Misconduct Helped Secure 550 Wrongful Death Penalty Convictions

Seems America Has Just About Had Enough Of The Death Penalty.

Brown has exercised her clemency powers more than any previous Oregon governor. In most cases, she cited a prisoner's "personal growth" as the rationale for reducing their sentence, but she doesn't believe someone on death row needs to have mastered needlepoint to avoid state-sanctioned murder. She said she's based these commutations on her firm belief that the death penalty is immoral and a waste of taxpayer money.

This reminds me of when I told one of my middle school teachers — who loved the death penalty almost as much as the Clemson Tigers — that the death penalty cost more than life imprisonment. She sneered, "C'mon, electricity's not that expensive."

The Oregon Department of Justice’s victim advocate team is reach out to the victims and their families, who are less likely to receive the news warmly. Brown said, "I have no way of knowing how to walk in these victims’ and their families’ shoes. What has happened to them, their families, has been brutal and horrific and appalling. My heart just aches for them. At the same time, it is immoral for the state to be in the business of executing people."

And, yeah, it's not as if everyone whose sentence Brown commuted is Andy and Red from The Shawshank Redemption.

From OPB:

Some of the people who were currently awaiting execution include Christian Longo, who was sentenced to death in 2003 after killing his wife Mary Jane and their three children, Bruce Turnidge and his son Joshua Turnidge who were responsible for the 2008 Woodburn bombings that killed police Capt. Tom Tennant and Oregon State Police Trooper William Hakim, and Jesse Compton, who killed Tessylnn O’Cull, a 3-year-old girl in 1997.

It's easy for governors to refuse to execute innocent people. That's sort of the bare minimum (and apparently too much to ask of certain Supreme Court justices). It takes moral courage to stand up and declare that the state has no right to kill even the worst garbage human "Criminal Minds" un-sub.

Two Oregon death row inmates were executed in the past 50 years. The last was Harry Moore in 1997. Gov. John Kitzhaber stopped enforcing the death penalty in 2011. However, capital punishment remains in the state constitution and requires a public vote to remove.

Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp from Bend slammed Brown for apparently ignoring the bloodthirsty will of the people.

“Did the people of Oregon vote to end the death penalty? I don’t recall that happening,” Knopp said. “This is another example of the governor and the Democrats not abiding by the wishes of Oregonians.”

Oregonians twice elected Brown, who openly opposes the death penalty. She didn't pull a Sinema on anyone. She's been straight about her views.

Clackamas County District Attorney John Wentworth's reaction was over-the-top goofy. He said, "Murderers will celebrate Christmas with the certainty of life while their victims’ families will spend Christmas Day without their loved ones or the justice they deserve."

We repeat: The convicted murderers are still in prison, not freely walking through a winter wonderland. There are about half a billion Hallmark and Netflix Christmas movies and not a single one is set in prison. It's not pleasant.


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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."


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