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Governor Kate Brown of Oregon has had a consistent track record of trying to abolish the death penalty in her state. So it was no surprise when, earlier this week, she announced that she’d commuted the sentences of 17 inmates currently on death row.
“Since taking office in 2015, I have continued Oregon’s moratorium on executions because the death penalty is both dysfunctional and immoral. Today I am commuting Oregon’s death row so that we will no longer have anyone serving a sentence of death and facing execution in this state,” Brown said.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Oregon is one of 27 states that authorizes the death penalty. Of the 17 inmates, 12 are White, three are Latino, one is American Indian or Alaska Native and one is Black.
Oregon’s voters appear to be split on this issue, abolishing and reinstating capital punishment over the years. However, recent changes by the Legislature and rulings by the Oregon Supreme Court have resulted in fewer people on Oregon’s death row.
Former executioner applauds decision
Former Superintendent of Prisons in Oregon, Frank Thompson, applauded the decision in a statement.
“This is a tremendous moment for me, because when I was Superintendent of Prisons for the State of Oregon back in the 1990’s, I oversaw the construction of Oregon’s death chamber, and I supervised the only two executions to take place in our state in the current death penalty era,” Thompson said.
“The Death Penalty is simply a bad public policy on many levels. It does a disservice to everyone it touches, including the state workers in our corrections department whose job it is to carry out executions. No employee of the state should have to take on the burdens that come with killing a defenseless human being,” Thompson added.
Thompson currently serves on the board of directors of Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and Death Penalty Action.
“These are burdens that I and others like me in this country know too well, and that is why I am among a number of former executioners who have been working to abolish the death penalty in Oregon and across the United States,” he said. “This announcement took me by surprise today, and I am grateful to have lived to see this moment. If I had one wish, it would be to be there personally to watch when the execution chamber whose construction I oversaw is officially and permanently dismantled.”
Oregon Governor stands by decision
Meanwhile, others believe that Brown made a hasty, irresponsible and insensitive decision. Rosemary Brewer, executive director of the Oregon Crime Victims Law Center, said “The victims should have been told about this so they had some time to prepare for it. These are horrific cases that left completely devastated families. They’re preparing for the holidays and all of a sudden, they see in the (newspaper) that the person who traumatized — devastated — their families had their death sentence commuted.”
Rep. Vikki Breese-Iverson, minority leader of Republicans in the Oregon House of Representatives, said, “Gov. Brown has once again taken executive action with zero input from Oregonians and the Legislature. Her decisions do not consider the impact the victims and families will suffer in the months and years to come. Democrats have consistently chosen criminals over victims.”
Brown acknowledged the pain and uncertainty felt by victims of the inmates but doubled-down on her decision. “I have long believed that justice is not advanced 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’s term as governor will end in January of 2023.