Oregon

Oregon

NEW VOICES: Former Oregon Chief Justice Recommends Repeal of Death Penalty

Edwin J. Peterson, who served as the Chief Justice of Oregon's Supreme Court for many years, recently recommended ending the state's death penalty. Judge Peterson voted as a citizen to reinstate the death penalty in Oregon in 1978 and in 1984, but he now believes the capital punishment system is broken: "We have an inefficient, ineffective, dysfunctional system," he said. "There is widespread dissatisfaction.... Our system has failed. Recognize it and repeal Oregon’s death penalty." He noted that taxpayers are supporting a system that yields no results: "There is little reason to believe that any defendant now on Oregon’s Death Row will ever be executed. [Yet] we taxpayers pay nearly all of the expenses of prosecuting and defending death-penalty cases." Read the full op-ed below.

Oregon Supreme Court Affirms Governor's Halt to All Executions

The Oregon Supreme Court ruled that Governor John Kitzhaber may delay the executions of the state's death row inmates during his term of office. In 2011, Kitzhaber instituted a moratorium on all executions in the state, saying, "I refuse to be a part of this compromised and inequitable system any longer; and I will not allow further executions while I am Governor." That decision was challenged by death row inmate Gary Haugen, who had waived his appeals in order to speed up his execution. Haugen argued that the reprieve was invalid because he refused to accept it, but the Court rejected that argument, ruling that the governor's clemency power is not dependent on the inmate's acceptance and noting that the reprieve will come to an end when the governor leaves office. Kitzhaber has urged the state legislature to allow a statewide vote on the death penalty. Because Oregon's death penalty was instituted by popular vote, it can only be repealed by a ballot measure. Oregon has had 2 executions since the death penalty was reinstated, both involving inmates who waived their appeals.

NEW VOICES: Oregon Leaders Speak Out About the Death Penalty

At a recent event at Willamette University in Oregon, various state leaders in the fields of law and criminal justice spoke critically about the state's death penalty. Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul De Muniz (pictured) said the death penalty was "bad public policy," almost never resulting in an execution. He spoke of having defended a murderer sentenced to death in 1988. Twenty-five years later, the Justice noted, he is now retired after a full career in the law, while the inmate is still in the midst of his appeals on death row. Noting the $28 million spent annually on the death penalty, Justice De Muniz said, “The death penalty is getting a ‘pass’ from legislative scrutiny, when looking for ways to trim Oregon’s budget to fund starving schools and public safety.” The former Superintendent of the State Penitentiary, Frank Thompson, who presided over the last executions in the state, called the current system a “failed public policy.” Thompson said that he was concerned about his staff, who had the responsibility of carrying out executions, and about the risk that some innocent people have been executed in the U.S. Retired Supreme Court Justice Edwin Peterson also announced at the sold-out event that he would begin speaking out publicly against the state’s death penalty.

LAW REVIEWS: "Oregon's Death Penalty: The Practical Reality"

A recent article by Professor Aliza Kaplan (pictured) of the Lewis & Clark Law School examines Oregon's death penalty in light of the action take by the state's governor, John Kitzhaber, to halt all executions. The article explores the history of Oregon's death penalty, the risk of wrongful convictions, and the costs associated with maintaining capital punishment. Kaplan found that executions are carried out very rarely, and, since 1976 only in instances where the inmate waived his appeals. According to one estimate cited by Kaplan, the cost of putting a person to death in Oregon is at least 50% more, and may be up to five times as much as the cost of a life without parole sentence. For example, Oregon taxpayers have paid approximately $2.2 million on the case of Randy Lee Guzek, who has been on death row for 24 years and is still not at the end of his appeals. Kaplan concludes, "While capital punishment remains on the books in Oregon, it is carried out rarely and only for volunteers; it moves at a snail's pace and is absorbing millions of dollars. Oregon's death penalty is long overdue for an examination as a public policy; its problems and alleged benefits should be weighed."

NEW VOICES: Former Warden, Victim Advocate, and Governor Urge Repeal in Oregon

On February 26, the House Judiciary Committee in Oregon held a hearing on repealing the death penalty. Among those testifying was Frank Thompson, a former superintendent of the Oregon State Penitentiary, who oversaw the state’s last two executions. Thompson told the committee the death penalty does not deter crime, fails to make the public safer, and places prison workers in an untenable position: “Asking decent men and women to participate in the name of a failed public policy that takes human life is indefensible and rises to a level of immorality.” Also recommending repeal was Aba Gayle (pictured), an Oregon resident whose daughter was murdered in 1980. Gayle testified that those in her situation will never experience closure and executing the killer would not honor her daughter’s life. She said, “Do not tarnish the memory of my beautiful child with another senseless killing.” The bill under consideration was introduced after Governor John Kitzhaber announced that no executions would occur during his tenure because the death penalty was a failed system. In a letter to the House Judiciary Committee, Kitzhaber expressed concerns about “evidence of wrongful convictions, the unequal application of the law and the expense of the process.” He concluded, “It is time for Oregon to consider a different approach.”  Read full text of the Governor's letter.

The Changing Face of the Death Penalty in American Politics

A recent column in The Economist examined the growing number of governors and other political leaders in the U.S. who are challenging the death penalty. In Arkansas, Governor Mike Beebe (pictured) announced in January that he would sign a death penalty abolition bill if the legislature sent him one. In Maryland, Governor Martin O'Malley has led a push to repeal the death penalty. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said he is reconsidering his support for the death penalty as that state considers its repeal. New Hampshire's new governor, Maggie Hassan, indicated she would sign a repeal bill if it reaches her, after two previous governors vetoed such actions. In Oregon, Governor John Kitzhaber suspended executions for the remainder of his term and asked legislators to review the issue. The Republican governors of Ohio and Kansas also have reservations about the death penalty. Governor John Kasich of Ohio has granted four commutations in capital cases, citing the need for fair trials, and Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas said capital punishment should be reserved for figures like Osama bin Laden. The author in The Economist contrasted these developments with Arkansas' former governor, Bill Clinton, who flew home from campaigning for president in 1992 to oversee an execution.  The article stated, "[T]he death-penalty debate has changed in ways that go beyond day-to-day politics. It is less loud and more sceptical, giving thoughtful governors room to question a policy that causes them anguish—because they think it arbitrary, ineffective and costly, and because they impose it."

Many States to Consider Death Penalty Abolition and Reform in 2013

As legislative sessions begin across the country, legislators in several states have proposed bills to abolish or reform the death penalty in 2013. In Alabama, Sen. Hank Sanders will introduce bills to abolish the death penalty, or alternatively to institute a series of reforms. “I believe the death penalty is not only unproductive but counter-productive,” he said. Texas will also consider a number of death penalty reform bills, including restrictions on certain types of evidence, and the creation of an innocence commission. Colorado Sen. Claire Levy is drafting a bill to abolish the death penalty. "We have increasing concerns about the possibility of executing an innocent person," said Levy. Kentucky Rep. Carl Rollins plans to propose a bill to replace the death penalty with a sentence of life without parole. In Maryland, Gov. Martin O'Malley has voiced support for a bill to end the death penalty and direct some of the money saved to murder victims' families. New Hampshire's Gov. Margaret Hassan also supports abolition, and a bill is likely to be introduced in that state. In Oregon, where Gov. John Kitzhaber instituted a moratorium on executions for the remainder of his term, Rep. Mitch Greenlick plans to introduce a bill beginning the process of abolishing the death penalty.

EDITORIALS: "Oregon's Life-or-Death Vote"

A recent editorial in The Oregonian, one of the state's major newspapers, endorsed a bill in the upcoming legislative session that could result in the repeal of the death penalty. The bill, to be introduced by Rep. Mitch Greenlick, would begin the process of amending the state's constitution through a referendum as early as November 2014. The editors wrote, "5 states -- New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Illinois and New Mexico -- have abandoned the death penalty in recent years. Advances in DNA testing, combined with dogged advocacy work, have startled the public into realizing that dozens of innocent people have been wrongly sentenced to die based on faulty evidence and poor legal defense. Oregon has grown more liberal since its last vote on capital punishment about three decades ago, and it's possible to picture Oregon joining the ranks of the abolitionists." Read full editorial below.  

Pages