All 17 prisoners in Oregon awaiting execution had their death sentences commuted to life in prison without the possibility of release, according to an announcement made by Governor Kate Brown on Tuesday.
With less than a month left in office, Brown, a Democrat, said she was invoking her executive clemency powers to commute the sentences. Her order will go into effect on Wednesday.
In a statement, Brown said: “I have long felt that removing a life does not further justice, and the state should not be in the business of executing people – even if a horrific act put them in prison.”
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Brown was charged with having “a lack of responsible judgment” by Rep. Vikki Breese-Iverson, the minority leader of the Republicans in the Oregon House of Representatives.
Breese-Iverson stated in a statement, “Gov. Brown has once again taken unilateral action with zero involvement from Oregonians and the Legislature.” “She doesn’t consider the long-term effects her choices will have on the victims and their families. Democrats frequently favor offenders over victims.”
Brown stated in her speech that victims wait for years while someone is on execution row and feel “suffering and uncertainty.”
She expressed her expectation that the commutation would move the cases “much closer to closure.”
Since 1997, Oregon has not carried out an execution. During her first press conference as governor in 2015, Brown declared that she would maintain the moratorium on the death penalty by her predecessor, former governor John Kitzhaber.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 17 people were put to death in the United States in 2022, all by lethal injection and all in Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, Missouri, and Alabama.
Some Other States Are Abandoning the Death Penalty, Similar to Oregon
In 2019, Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom of California ended executions and closed the state’s San Quentin execution chamber. He initiated a plan to transfer all death row inmates to other institutions within two years to demolish America’s largest death row.
Brown is renowned in Oregon for using her power to pardon criminals.
Nearly 1,000 criminally charged individuals received pardons from Brown during the coronavirus pandemic. Family members of crime victims and two district attorneys filed a lawsuit against the governor and other state officials to block the clemency decisions. However, the Oregon Court of Appeals decided in August that she acted legally.
Brown’s decision to permit 73 individuals convicted of murder, assault, rape, and manslaughter while under 18 to seek early release drew significant criticism from the prosecutors.
In her most recent judgment, Brown stated that evaluation did not apply, even though in the past, she had awarded commutations “to individuals who have shown tremendous growth and rehabilitation.”
According to Brown, “This commutation is not based on any rehabilitation efforts by the people on death row.” “Instead, it illustrates the understanding that the death sentence is morally wrong. It is a punishment that cannot be undone and does not allow for improvement.”
Inmates on death row will gradually be transferred to special housing units or general population units at the state penitentiary in Salem and other state prisons, the Oregon Department of Corrections stated in May 2020.
Fourteen years after abolishing the death sentence, Oregon voters decided to revive it by popular vote in 1978. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, the Oregon Supreme Court deemed it illegal in 1981, and Oregon voters restored it in 1984.
Seventeen names were on a list of prisoners with death sentences issued by the governor’s office.
However, 21 names are included on the state department of corrections website. However, the Oregon Supreme Court overturned one of those prisoners’ death sentences in 2021 because the crime he committed was no longer punishable by the death penalty under a 2019 law.
An attempt was made to reconcile the lists, but representatives from the governor’s office and the department of corrections did not respond immediately.