Salem, Oregon. –
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced Tuesday that she is commuting the sentences of all 17 awaiting execution prisoners in the state, saying their death sentences will be commuted to life without parole.
Brown, a Democrat who has been out of office for less than a month, said she is using her executive clemency powers to commute her sentence, and her order goes into effect Wednesday.
“I have long believed that killing life does not advance justice and that states should not execute people — even if horrific crimes land them in prison,” Brown said in a statement.
House Minority Leader Vikki Breese-Iverson of Oregon accused Brown of “lacking responsible judgment.”
“Once again, Governor Brown took executive action with zero input from Oregonians and the Legislature,” Brees-Iverson said in a statement. “Her decision doesn’t take into account the impact victims and families will suffer in the months and years to come. Democrats have consistently chosen criminals over victims.”
In his statement, Brown said the victims experienced “pain and uncertainty” while waiting for decades on death row.
“I hope this reduced sentence will bring us closer to a final outcome in these cases,” she said.
Oregon has not executed a prisoner since 1997. In Brown’s first news conference since becoming governor in 2015, she announced she would continue the moratorium on executions imposed by her predecessor, former Gov. John Kitzhaber.
As of 2022, 17 people have been executed in the United States, all by lethal injection in Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, Missouri and Alabama, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Like Oregon, some other states are moving away from the death penalty.
In California, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom imposed a moratorium on executions in 2019 and closed the state’s execution chamber in San Quentin. A year ago, he set out to dismantle the largest death row in the United States, transferring all death row inmates to other prisons within two years.
In Oregon, Brown is known for exercising the power of pardons.
Brown has pardoned nearly 1,000 convicted people during the coronavirus pandemic. Two district attorneys joined families of crime victims in suing the governor and other state officials to halt clemency. But an Oregon appeals court ruled in August that she was acting within her purview.
Prosecutors objected in particular to Brown’s decision to allow 73 people under the age of 18 convicted of murder, battery, rape and manslaughter to apply for early release.
Brown noted that she had previously granted reduced sentences to “individuals who have demonstrated extraordinary growth and recovery,” but said that assessment did not apply to her most recent decision.
“This commutation is not based on any rehabilitation efforts by death row inmates,” Brown said. “Rather, it reflects a recognition of the immorality of the death penalty. It is an irreversible punishment that does not allow for correction.”
The Oregon Department of Corrections announced in May 2020 that it was phasing out death row and reassigning those inmates to other special housing units or general population units at Salem State Prison and other state prisons.
Oregon voters restored the death penalty by popular vote in 1978, 14 years after abolishing the death penalty. The Oregon Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in 1981, and Oregon voters restored it in 1984, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
A list of those on death row provided by the governor’s office has 17 names.
But the state Department of Corrections website lists 21 names. However, the death sentence of one of the inmates was overturned by the Oregon Supreme Court in 2021 because the crime he committed no longer qualified for the death penalty under a 2019 law.
Officials from the governor’s office and the Department of Corrections did not immediately respond to attempts to check the list.