Outgoing Governor Uses Executive Clemency Powers to Empty Death Row

Outgoing Governor Kate Brown will commute the sentences of Oregon’s remaining death row inmates and dismantle the execution chamber in an effort to effectively end capital punishment in the state, she announced Tuesday.

Brown said she will commute the sentences of 17 individuals on death row to life in prison without the possibility of parole, effective Wednesday.

“Since taking office in 2015, I have continued Oregon’s moratorium on executions because the death penalty is both dysfunctional and immoral,” she said in a press release. “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. This is a value that many Oregonians share.”

Brown said she has long believed that justice is not served by capital punishment, and “the state should not be in the business of executing people — even if a terrible crime placed them in prison.”

Brown acknowledged that this round of commutations is “not based on any rehabilitative efforts by the individuals on death row.”

“Instead, it reflects the recognition that the death penalty is immoral,” she said. “It is an irreversible punishment that does not allow for correction; is wasteful of taxpayer dollars; does not make communities safer; and cannot be and never has been administered fairly and equitably.”

Republicans were quick to blast Brown’s announcement, as they have done to other clemency decisions she has made.

“Did the people of Oregon vote to end the death penalty?” Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, said in a statement. “I don’t recall that happening. This is another example of the Governor and the Democrats not abiding by the wishes of Oregonians. Even in the final days of her term, Brown continues to disrespect victims of the most violent crimes.”

Knopp said Brown has used her executive authority to pardon or commute more sentences than any other governor in the state’s history and more than all of Oregon’s governors from the last 50 years combined.

House Minority Leader Vikki Breese-Iverson, R-Prineville, also criticized Brown for taking drastic action she claims showed a “lack of responsible judgment” — just 27 days before leaving office.

“Governor Brown has once again taken executive action with zero input from Oregonians and the legislature,” Breese-Iverson said in a statement. “Oregon has not executed an individual since 1997 and has only executed two criminals since voters adopted the death penalty in 1984.

“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.”

Previously abolished by voters in 1964 following the gas chamber execution of Leroy Sanford McGahuey, the death penalty was reinstated by voters 20 years later with the passage of Measure 6.

Since then, the state has executed two men by lethal injection, both of whom had been convicted of multiple homicides: Douglas Franklin Wright in September 1996 and Harry Charles Moore in May 1997.

Both of those executions were carried out under the authority of Governor John Kitzhaber, who announced a moratorium on the practice in 2011, which was later affirmed and continued by his successor, Kate Brown.

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