PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Calling the death penalty immoral, Governor Kate Brown commuted the death sentences of 17 inmates to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Brown, 62, announced the commutations will take effect Wednesday, December 14 in a full-throated condemnation and repudiation of the death penalty.
“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. This is a value that many Oregonians share,” she said in a statement.
The state, she said, “should not be in the business of executing people” even though she noted a “terrible crime” led to a conviction and the death sentence.
Brown said she has commuted other prisoners’ sentences after they showed “extraordinary growth and rehabilitation.” But the commutation of the 17 prisoners on Oregon’s death row has nothing to do with that.
Her decision “reflects the recognition that the death penalty is immoral. 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.”
Although Oregon’s death penalty remains in place, the legislature passed Senate Bill 1013 in 2019 that nearly abolishes the punishment, she said.
Brown became Oregon governor in February 2015 when John Kitzhaber resigned. Kitzhaber initially announced the death penalty moratorium in the state before the scheduled 2011 execution of Gary Haugen.
She has been consistent in her opposition to the death penalty throughout her term as governor.
After Brown took over as governor, she said she would continue the stoppage of public executions until further study. During the 2016 campaign, she again said she planned to maintain a moratorium on the death penalty in Oregon.
At that time, there were 34 prisoners on Oregon’s death row. Haugen, convicted of killing his girlfriend’s mother and later another prison inmate, remains on death row, as do Christian Longo, convicted of killing his wife and 3 children, and the Woodburn bombers, Bruce Turnidge and Joshua Turnidge.
Four separate times in Oregon’s history, the death penalty became the law of the state. Twice, voters ousted it, and once, it was struck down by the Oregon Supreme Court. It once again became the law in 1984, but the first execution under this current law did not take place until 1996.
Executions are rare in the United States. As of November 1, 2022, 37 states have either abolished the death penalty or not had an execution in at least the past 10 years, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Oregon hasn’t executed a prisoner since 1997. Seventeen people have been executed nationwide this year.
In her statement Tuesday, Gov. Brown said she understands “the pain and uncertainty victims experience as they wait for decades while individuals sit on death row,” especially in states with similar moratoriums.
“My hope,” she said, “is that this commutation will bring us a significant step closer to finality in these cases.”
The Oregon Department of Corrections currently lists more than 17 individuals as being on death row. The governor’s office and the corrections department have not immediately explained the discrepancy.
Brown will remain governor of Oregon until Tina Kotek is sworn in to replace her on January 9, 2023. During the campaign, Kotek said she would continue the death penalty moratorium as governor.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.