Oregon

Oregon

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.  

NEW VOICES: Former Death Row Warden Seeks Repeal of Death Penalty in Oregon

Frank Thompson, a former state penitentiary warden, has recently joined efforts to repeal the death penalty in Oregon. Thompson, who supervised the only two executions carried out in the state since capital punishment was reinstated in 1984, described the death penalty as a “failed public policy," and said that “capital punishment fails terribly in meeting any evidence-based outcomes.” Thompson, who recently joined the Advisory Council of Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said the state cannot afford the death penalty during these tough economic times when Oregon is threatening layoffs and cuts in public services. He estimated the cost of maintaining the state’s death penalty system as $9-20 million each year, and said he supports life without parole as an alternative to capital punishment.  In November 2011, Governor John Kitzhaber declared a moratorium on all executions in the state, calling on legislators to bring potential death penalty reforms to the 2013 legislative session and to consider alternatives to the death penalty. Thompson remarked, "I think taking another look at capital punishment is very timely, and with the governor's decision it really moves it to the forefront."  

NEW VOICES: Former Texas Governor Supports Actions by Oregon's Governor

In a recent op-ed in Oregon's Statesman Journal, former Texas Governor Mark White (pictured) applauded Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber’s decision to grant a reprieve to death row inmate Gary Haugen and to halt all executions in the state.  Governor White wrote, “I think Kitzhaber's decision is respectable and courageous. In Oregon, as in Texas, it is clearly within the constitutional authority of the governor to grant reprieves and commutations. With that authority comes the responsibility to ensure the state's laws are carried out fairly and within the state and federal constitutions. He concluded that Oregon's death penalty as a system was not passing that test.”  Governor White also said that Governor Kitzhaber’s decision now allows time for the state to study the death penalty and address serious concerns about the system.  Governor White concluded, “Such a decision should be welcomed by all who value justice, regardless of their personal beliefs about the death penalty.” Read full op-ed below.

EDITORIALS: Praise for Oregon Governor's Action Halting Executions

The Register Guard (Eugene, Oregon) praised Governor John Kitzhaber's recent announcement halting all executions, calling his conclusion that the "death penalty is morally wrong and unjustly administered" to be "right on both counts." In their editorial, the paper noted that the governor's actions are in line with other developments in the U.S. and internationally: "Kitzhaber’s announcement came as the tide is turning against the death penalty. Earlier this year, Illinois Gov. Patrick Quinn abolished it in a state that since 1977 had wrongly condemned at least 20 people to death. At least 16 states — and 133 countries — now reject the death penalty."  The editors encouraged Oregonians to engage in a "great debate" on the death penalty and seek a solution that "reflects Oregon's values."  See the full editorial below.

Oregon Governor Declares Moratorium on All Executions

In a statement released on Nov. 22, Governor John Kitzhaber of Oregon announced a halt to all executions in the state.  "I am convinced we can find a better solution that keeps society safe, supports the victims of crime and their families and reflects Oregon values," he wrote. "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."  His action halts the upcoming execution of Gary Haugen, an inmate who waived his appeals and was scheduled to die on December 6. The governor further stated he acted, "Both because of my own deep personal convictions about capital punishment and also because in practice, Oregon has an expensive and unworkable system that fails to meet basic standards of justice."

Pages