Oregon governor commutes sentences for state’s 17 death row inmates

December 15, 2022

Outgoing Oregon Governor Kate Brown (D) on commuted the sentences of all 17 people on the state’s death row on Tuesday, December 13—changing their punishment from execution to life in prison without the possibility of parole, reports The Washington Post.

Brown said in a statement that she has “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.”

Oregon has not executed a prisoner since 1997. Brown was the latest in a string of governors who had committed to a moratorium on the death penalty. She extended the moratorium because the death penalty, she said, is “dysfunctional and immoral.”

Brown, who took office in 2015 and was reelected in 2018, will step down next year at the end of her term limit. Her successor, Tina Kotek (D), has said she will continue the moratorium—citing a personal opposition to the death penalty due to her religious beliefs.

Brown noted in her order, which took effect on Wednesday, that she also had signed into law a 2019 bill that “drastically reduced the circumstances in which a death sentence can be imposed.”

Oregon is among 27 states that authorize capital punishment. Three of those states, including Oregon, have governor-imposed moratoriums, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

“Unlike previous commutations I’ve granted to individuals who have demonstrated extraordinary growth and rehabilitation, this commutation is not based on any rehabilitative efforts by the individuals on death row,” Brown said in the statement.

“Instead,” she said, “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.”

An execution in 1996, which was the state’s first in more than three decades, cost taxpayers $200,000, according to the state.

Brown said she recognized “the pain and uncertainty victims experience” as inmates wait on death row for years. The oldest effective judgment date was September 1992, according to Brown’s order. “My hope is that this commutation will bring us a significant step closer to finality in these cases,” she said.

Research contact: @washingtonpost