In a welcome move, Kate Brown has commuted the sentences of all death row inmates, just weeks before leaving office.
The governor of Oregon, Kate Brown announced Tuesday that she is commuting the sentences of all of the state’s 17 inmates awaiting execution, saying all of their death sentences will be changed to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Brown, who has less than a month remaining in office, said she was using her executive clemency powers to commute the sentences and that her order will take effect on Wednesday.
“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,” Brown said in a statement.
Oregon has not executed a prisoner since 1997. In Brown’s first news conference after she became governor in 2015, the Democrat announced she would continue a moratorium on the death penalty imposed by her predecessor, former Governor John Kitzhaber.
In Oregon, Brown is known for exercising her authority to grant clemency.
During the coronavirus pandemic, Brown granted clemency to nearly 1,000 people convicted of crimes. Two district attorneys, along with family members of crime victims, sued the governor and other state officials to stop the clemency actions. But the Oregon court of appeals ruled in August that she acted within her authority.
While moratoriums are at least something, it still leaves the possibility of people being executed if the moratorium is lifted by a new governor. Commuting of the death sentence is irreversible.
I hope more and more states move to end the death penalty. Failing that, governors should commute the death penalty. Failing that, they should declare a moratorium. The goal of any move short of eliminating the death penalty should be to make carrying it out so rare that people see it as a shocking event, not as a routine part of the criminal justice system.
A growing number of states have restricted or halted capital punishment. California has had a moratorium on executions since 2019, and the Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom, has begun to move all condemned inmates into general population prisons in a staggered closing of death row.
Bills were introduced this year in 15 state legislatures as well as the US Congress proposing abolition of the death penalty, with two states in particular – Utah and Ohio – making strides in that direction. Oregon remains technically one of 27 death penalty states, though the number of states which actively kill prisoners is vastly smaller.
This year only five states carried out executions: Alabama, Arizona, Oklahoma, Missouri and Texas. A sixth, Mississippi, was scheduled to execute Thomas Loden, a former US marine convicted of murdering a 16-year-old girl in 2000, on Wednesday.
Things are moving in the right direction.