Oregon Gov.Kate Brown announced on Dec. 13 that 17 inmates awaiting execution will instead have their death sentences changed to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“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, a Democrat, said in a statement.
“Since taking office in 2015, I have continued Oregon’s moratorium on executions because the death penalty is both dysfunctional and immoral. Today I am commuting Oregon’s death row so that we will no longer have anyone serving a sentence of death and facing execution in this state. This is a value that many Oregonians share,” the governor added.
Brown, who has less than a month remaining in office, said she will use her executive clemency powers to commute the sentences of the individuals, who are awaiting execution for crimes including murder. Her order (pdf) is effective immediately.
Among the 17 individuals currently on death row in the state’s prisons include Christian Longo, who was sentenced to death in 2003 for the murders of his wife Mary Jane and their three children, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting.
Others include Jesse Compton, who killed Tesslynn O’Cull, the three-year-old daughter of his live-in girlfriend, in 1997; and Bruce Turnidge and his son Joshua Turnidge, who were both convicted of aggravated murder following the 2008 Woodburn bombings that killed two law enforcement officials.
Brown said in her statement on Monday that she recognizes the “pain and uncertainty” victims experience as they wait for decades while individuals sit on death row.
“My hope is that this commutation will bring us a significant step closer to finality in these cases,” she said.
Oregon is one of 27 states that permit the death penalty. The others are: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 17 people have been executed in the United States in 2022, all by lethal injection. The executions took place in Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, Missouri, and Alabama,
‘Zero Input From Oregonians and the Legislature’
Oregon has not executed a prisoner since 1997, when Harry Moore was given the lethal injection after being convicted of murdering his half-sister and her former husband.
Prior to that execution, Oregon had reinstated the death penalty in 1984 after the state’s supreme court declared it unconstitutional in 1981.
Brown became governor in 2015, succeeding Gov. John Kitzhaber, who stopped enforcing the death penalty in 2011. Multiple polls have found that Brown has the highest disapproval ratings of any governor in the country, with Oregonians dissatisfied with her leadership throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, volatile economy, and intense wildfires.
She is set to be succeeded by Democrat Tina Kotek in January after her term in office ends.
Rep. Vikki Breese-Iverson, leader of the minority Republicans in the Oregon House of Representatives, opposed Brown’s decision on Monday, and said the governor was showing “a lack of responsible judgment.”
“Gov. Brown has once again taken executive action with zero input from Oregonians and the legislature,” Breese-Iverson said in a statement. “Her decisions do not consider the impact the victims and families will suffer in the months and years to come. Democrats have consistently chosen criminals over victims.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.