Oregon’s governor commutes all 17 of the state’s death sentences

SALEM, Ore. (AP) – Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced Tuesday that she is commuting the sentences of all 17 of the state’s inmates awaiting execution, saying their death sentences will be commuted to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Brown, a Democrat with less than a month left in office, said she used her executive clemency powers to commute the sentences and that her order will take effect Wednesday.

“I have long believed that justice is not served by taking a life, and the state should not be in the business of executing people — even if a terrible crime placed them in prison,” Brown said in a statement.

Rep. Vikki Breese-Iverson, the leader of the minority Republicans in Oregon’s House of Representatives, accused Brown of “lacking responsible judgment.”

“Gov. Brown has once again taken executive action without input from Oregonians and the Legislature,” Breese-Iverson said in a statement. “Her decisions do not consider the impact victims and families will suffer in the months and years to come. Democrats have consistently chosen criminals over victims.”

In his announcement, Brown said victims experience “pain and uncertainty” as they wait for decades as people sit on death row.

“My hope is that this transformation will bring us a significant step closer to finality in these cases,” she said.

Oregon has not executed an inmate since 1997. At Brown’s first news conference after becoming governor in 2015, she announced that she would continue the death penalty moratorium put in place by her predecessor, former Gov. John Kitzhaber.

So far, 17 people have been executed in the United States in 2022, all by lethal injection and all in Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, Missouri and Alabama, according to Death Penalty Information Center.

Like Oregon, some other states are moving away from the death penalty.

In California, Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom imposed a moratorium on executions in 2019 and closed the state’s execution chamber at San Quentin. A year ago, he moved to run America’s largest death row by moving all sentenced inmates to other prisons within two years.

In Oregon, Brown is known for exercising his authority to grant clemency.

During the coronavirus pandemic, Brown granted clemency to nearly 1,000 people convicted of crimes. Two district attorneys, along with family members of crime victims, sued the governor and other state officials to halt the clemency actions. But the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled in August that she acted within her authority.

In particular, prosecutors objected to Brown’s decision to allow 73 people convicted of murder, assault, rape and manslaughter while younger than 18 to apply for early release.

Brown noted that she has previously granted commuting “to individuals who have demonstrated extraordinary growth and rehabilitation,” but said the assessment did not factor into her latest decision.

“This commuting is not based on any rehabilitative efforts by the individuals on death row,” Brown said. “Instead, it reflects the recognition that the death penalty is immoral. It is an irreversible punishment that does not allow for correction.”

The Oregon Department of Corrections announced in May 2020 that it would phase out its death row and relocate these inmates to other special housing units or general population units at the state prison in Salem and other state prisons.

Oregon voters reinstated the death penalty by referendum in 1978, 14 years after abolishing it. The Oregon Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in 1981, and Oregon voters reinstated it in 1984, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

A list of death row inmates provided by the governor’s office had 17 names.

But the website of the state’s Correctional Service shows 21 names. However, one of those inmates had his death sentence overturned by the Oregon Supreme Court in 2021 because the crime he committed was no longer eligible for the death penalty under a 2019 law.

Officials in the governor’s office and the Department of Corrections did not immediately respond to an attempt to reconcile the lists.

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