US state governor commutes all death sentences
In one of her last acts as governor of Oregon, Democrat Kate Brown has commuted the sentences of 17 inmates on death row to life without parole, declaring capital punishment “both dysfunctional and immoral” in a statement released by her office on Tuesday.
“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,” the press release states.
While the death penalty is technically legal in Oregon, Brown has maintained a moratorium on executions since taking office in 2015. She further restricted its use with a 2019 law, arguing opposition to taxpayer-funded killing is “a value that many Oregonians share.”
Brown explained her decision to spare the 17 condemned prisoners, effective on Wednesday, was unrelated to “any rehabilitative efforts by the individuals on death row.” Instead, she said, it was based solely on “the recognition that the death penalty is immoral.”
“It is an irreversible penalty 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,” Brown’s statement reads, while acknowledging “the pain and uncertainty victims experience as they wait for decades while individuals sit on death row…without resolution.”
While the prisoners will be spared lethal injection, they will not be eligible for parole, meaning they will still live out the rest of their days behind bars. That didn’t stop the governor’s political opponents from denouncing the move as prioritizing the rights of criminals over victims, however. State Rep. Vikki Breese-Iverson (R) issued a statement of her own accusing Brown of exercising “a lack of responsible judgment.”
Oregon has not executed a prisoner since 1997, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, and Brown’s predecessor suspended capital punishment in 2011.
The governor leaves office next month, to be replaced by Democrat Tina Kotek. Last month, she vacated the convictions of more than 47,000 low-level marijuana offenders, in line with a nationwide trend toward legalizing the drug. Her decision to grant clemency to over 1,100 prisoners during the Covid-19 pandemic, however, triggered an unsuccessful lawsuit by victims’ families, who called it an abuse of power.